In Review

Manifesto by Bernardine Evaristo – what the critics are saying

This is an entertaining, ‘unfailingly generous’ account of how an important writer ‘became herself’

Bernardine Evaristo

Bernardine Evaristo’s first foray into non-fiction has a slightly misleading title, said Tomiwa Owolade in The Sunday Times: it’s less a manifesto, “more of a memoir”. In it, the novelist and poet good-humouredly details the barriers she overcame to become, in 2019, the first black woman to win the Booker Prize (for Girl, Woman, Other).

Born in southeast London in 1959, to a Nigerian father and a white British mother, Evaristo started out as an actor – in her early 20s she co-founded a theatre company for black women – before making the “transition to print” a decade later. Writing was a struggle at first: “no one in mainstream publishing cared about a fledgling black female poet”.

Where she achieved success, it was by being daring: The Emperor’s Babe (2001), her “first big break in publishing”, was a historical novel in verse form. As this “moving and enjoyable” book shows, Evaristo has always been a risk-taker.

Manifesto lacks the fluency of Evaristo’s fiction, said Claire Allfree in The Daily Telegraph. Her observations can be unwieldy (“It’s safe to surmise that I inherited a history of woman’s secondary status in society”), and her writing oddly formal. Still, the book’s “stirring closing essay, arguing for the novelist’s right to work with absolute imaginative freedom”, is worth the cover price alone.

This book is “wickedly funny”, particularly when it comes to Evaristo’s “varied sexual conquests”, said Alex Peake-Tomkinson in the London Evening Standard. She touchingly recalls her affair with a woman she calls “eX” – whom she met on “Amsterdam’s cool lesbian scene” in the 1980s – and, later, with another woman nicknamed “The Mental Dominatrix”. This is an entertaining, “unfailingly generous” account of how an important writer “became herself”.

Hamish Hamilton 208pp £14.99; The Week Bookshop £11.99

Manifesto book cover
The Week Bookshop

To order this title or any other book in print, visit theweekbookshop.co.uk, or speak to a bookseller on 020-3176 3835. Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.

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