The novel opens with Amma just about to open her play, “The Last Amazon of Dahomy”, at the National Theatre. She reminisces about her friend Dominique and the days when they were starting out in theatre. The days they would heckle and disrupt any shows that offended them. She remembers how firmly they both believed in their public protests. Because of their strong political views and protests, both girls found it impossible to find work as actresses, so they decided to open their own theatre company.
Amma is one character from a group of twelve women. The novel follows this group of women and their everyday problems. Problems, that are problems only to a paranoid, insecure, mind, like celluloid, and eyebrows, fat where there is no fat. To more serious problems such as wearing a hijab after the twin tower bombings. The girls come from all different walks of life, countries and cultures, even generations, and yet they all are connected to the central narrative. The novel's central narrative, its beating heart, is the characters and their lives. In some ways it almost feels like you are being bombarded from a plethora of perspectives. However, it works, extremely well. The narrative hops all over the place from character to character, back and forth in time and again perspective. The story revolves around these characters, their lives, their desires, fears. It is a delight to be reading one character’s narrative line, and then find the connections to the other characters lines. They may be parents, siblings, friends, the connections are everywhere.
The phrase, never judge somebody until you have walked a mile in their shoes, has never seemed more apt than in this novel. You will briefly meet a character in one character’s story that you may dislike, or cast quick judgement upon, then you will find out more about them in their own story and find why they are the way they are, or how somebodies actions or views can so easily be misconstrued. There are so many perspectives and connections that this novel almost requires multiple reads to fully appreciate the skill that has gone into this book. The way that all the character’s chapters are joined in some way reminded me very much of David Mitchell.
The last chapter is also skilfully written. Just as the novel opens with Amma’s play about to start, it concludes with the after party of the play in which many of the characters are present. This creates an excellent narrative balance and finale. The epilogue is the icing on top.
Punctuation is thrown out the window with this book. I personally feel that punctuation, call me old school, is a must. However, having said that, this book does flow along almost poetically at times, and I found myself forgetting about the lack of punctuation very early into the novel and enjoying it not long after that.
This is an amazing book, addressing issues such as racism, sexism, stereotypes, feminism, social media, almost furtively at times, and at others right in your face. This is right up there with my favourite reads of the year. 5 Stars.
Bernardine Evaristo is a British writer, born in Woolwich, south east London to an English mother and Nigerian father. She has written novels in various mixes of prose and poetry; she has also written poems, radio plays, and theatre plays. Among her other honours, The Emperor's Babe was chosen as one of the Times' "100 Best Books of the Decade" and Evaristo was named a Member of the British Empire (MBE) for being "a major voice in the multicultural panorama of British literature".
Wonderful interview of Evaristo at Penguin. Here is the link - https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/2019/may/bernardine-evaristo-on-writing-about-older-black-women-interview/
There is also a link here to my favourite book vlogger Simon Savidge from SavidgeReads, it is the last book in the video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgS6onPI8SQ