Books

Bernardine Evaristo’s world of fiction

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on October 15, 2019 Published on October 15, 2019

Bernadine Evaristo   -  Twitter via @BernardineEvari

The UK-born author who shared 2019 Booker Prize with Canadian Margaret Atwood, has penned eight novels

In her book, Negotiating With the Dead: a Writer on Writing, Margaret Atwood comments on what writing is: “Possibly, then, writing has to do with darkness, and a desire or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it, and to bring something back out to the light.”

Interestingly, this observation goes perfectly in sync with the writings of Bernardine Evaristo, the UK-born author with Nigerian roots who shared with Atwood the Booker Prize for year 2019. Author of eight novels and several works of non-fiction, poetry and literary criticism, Evaristo represents a pack of writers whose works track love, pain, people, criss-crossing continents, only to find themselves caught in situations that are dark, dreamy, absurd and politically challenging.

Also read: Margaret Atwood, Bernardine Evaristo jointly win Booker Prize

The best example of this is Girl, Woman, Other, her Booker-winning novel, which tracks the lives of 12 individuals, of whom many are British black women, confronting their past, present and future. Sample this where one character recalls her past: “Mum worked eight hours a day in paid employment, raised four children, maintained the home, made sure the patriarch’s dinner was on the table every night and his shirts were ironed every morning meanwhile, he was off saving the world..” Such subtle but seething attack on patriarchy and the society it controls is one of the many striking characteristics of the works of the 60-year-old.

Like Atwood, Evaristo too has created characters who are flawed by design and grooming. Like Atwood’s obscure, charming and eerily complex ‘murderer’ Grace Marks in Alias Grace, Evaristo’s Barrington Jedidiah Walker Esq of Mr. Loverman, an old British-Caribbean gay, is dark, dubious and witty while being deeply philsophical. The worlds Evaristo explores in her works are not very unique in a way -- societies where women, children, sexual minorities are oppressed, etc -- but her characters look at life in enchantingly unique ways.

For instance, in Girl, Woman, Other, Hattie asks: ”“y’all didn’t discover that the woman who cried rape gave birth nine months later to a child so white, even her daddy came round to your daddy’s house to apologize in person.. y’all ain’t been through that now, have ya?... so negroes, please, hold it down.” Evaristo never misses a chance to shock you. And by letting you get jolted out of your mundane worlds where the normal lives ‘happily ever after’, her characters force you to introspect deeply on what really is life and what does it really mean to exist and how important it is to fight for survival and meaning.

And sex is an important component of her fiction. She writes about it with all the earnestness and rawness it demands and her descriptions are stark and satirical. Her characters are not clear-headed about their sexual orientations, but they do confront their sexualities head-on when they come face to face with it and those conflicts produce myriad outcomes that redefine their existences as men, women, fathers, mothers, political animals, activists, and so on. “...she slipped free crusty pies filled with apple-flavoured lumps of sugar to the runaway rent boys she befriended who operated around the station.. with no idea that in years to come she’d be attending their funerals.. they didn’t realize unprotected sex meant a dance with death.. nobody did”

That’s why Evaristo’s works become an exercise in catharsis while being political manifestos of the times they are written in. Her seven novels, sparing the Booker winning one, are Mr Loverman, Hello Mum, Lara, Blonde Roots, Soul Tourists, The Emperor's Babe and Island of Abraham.

Published on October 15, 2019
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