It took me quite a long while to read this. I enjoyed it whenever I read a section, and I read it in large chunks at a time; but between times I wasn’t particularly drawn back to it. I think that’s probably because it doesn’t have any significant plot.
Instead it’s a series of character explorations, looking at a series of Black women (and a few men) over several decades of the twentieth century and the first two of the twenty-first.
Each story is compelling and enjoyable, and they’re all interlinked — almost too interlinked at times, you might say, because there’s an element of coincidence. But that doesn’t matter: coincidences happen, after all.
Perhaps the major downside is that you get interested and invested in a character, and their chapter ends and we move on to another one. So it’s like you’re always starting fresh. Or fresh-ish. That’s probably also part of why I had the experience I described at the start, of not being drawn back to it.
Because of my course, I’ve been thinking a lot about the choices writers make. So I was particularly aware of Evaristo’s unconventional choices regarding punctuation and capitalisation. Specifically, she capitalises proper nouns, but no other words. So sentences all start with lower-case letters. And she eschews almost all punctuation. Only the comma, the apostrophe, the question mark, and an occasional exclamation mark, are used.1
No full stops means — and I only consciously realised this when looking it over to write this — that every sentence starts a new paragraph, and comprises the whole of the paragraph. Even when a sentence does end with a question mark or exclamation mark, she has it end the paragraph.
All of which is fine. I found it noticeable, but not distracting. I just wonder what the intended effect is. Some people say they find things like quotes to delineate speech intrusive, and I’ve heard it said that leaving capitals off the start of sentences feels more informal. But I feel generally that most established conventions have good reasons for existing, and that the best approach is to keep to them, unless you have a very good reason for not doing so. I don’t think this novel would in any way be lessened if it were capitalised and punctuated conventionally.
And then I would be talking more about the content, not the form.
There may be the odd colon or semicolon, but I couldn’t find any on looking it over just now. And there are probably a couple of dashes and brackets. ↩