After 40 years of writing, Bernardine Evaristo’s 8th novel – Girl, Woman, Other – proved to be her golden ticket to renown and success. With a Booker Prize and two British Book Award wins under her belt, Evaristo is well on her way towards becoming a household name. It is over the course of those 40 years, however, that Evaristo has shown her dedication to writing Black people in all their wonderful complexity. Girl, Woman, Other simply marks the latest iteration of that lifelong practice. As many have said of her and her joint booker prize winner Margaret Atwood, their wins were not awarded for a single novel but conferred to them in honour of all their services to literature. Many, of course, foolishly repeat that fallacy in defence of Margaret Atwood’s controversial win without acknowledging that she had, in fact, already bagged the Booker Prize in 2000. This is yet another in a long string of indictments against a white-washed publishing industry where the first Black woman to win the prize, ever, is also the first winner to do so only jointly in over 28 years.

In a metatextual, Vonnegut-worthy twist of fate, Girl, Woman, Other follows middle-aged theatre director Amma who finally has her big break production. Its premiere night anchors and bookends the loosely connected tales of 12 black British women. The narrative voice is decidedly omniscient: it seems to gaze upon events and move pieces to precipitate unlikely coincidences. From the 80-year old Northern farmer Hattie to the Twitter-revolutionary Yazz, Evaristo’s novel is refreshing because it ditches the fiction of a universal Black female experience and explores how “black woman” is a capacious category that includes a kaleidoscope of different politics, sexualities, religions, and so forth. That exploration is what makes it an instant classic about the Black British experience. Like Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, this sprawling historical fiction novel has been criticised for spreading itself too thin in trying to tackle a dizzying number of characters. Others have responded that when it comes to representation, too much beats too little. That said, some representations are more effective than others. For example, Winsome’s scandalous affair completely demolishes narratives about Black women’s saintly mammyhood.

It is incredible to see Evaristo’s genius finally recognised on a mass scale. Girl, Woman, Other’s success has spread beyond itself and made Evaristo’s past titles more popular than they have ever been. A writer’s writer has become a mainstream writer. The difference between the hardback and paperback covers of Girl, Woman, Other illustrates the fact. While the former has a classic feel that might appeal to fans of literary fiction, the latter’s vibrant illustration is more eye-catching and explicit in its popular appeal.

But, unfortunately, Evaristo’s career trajectory also illustrates how the white reader’s preferences still steer the publishing industry. It is not without reason that Girl, Woman, Other, a digestible novel providing brief glimpses into the lives of 12 mostly black British women, succeeded where Evaristo’s more esoteric historical fiction did not. In The Emperor’s Babe, Evaristo reminds us of erased black history that predates the transatlantic slave trade which, until recently, did not really interest anyone except black people. Blonde Roots also demonstrates Evaristo’s flair for historical fiction. It tells a Noughts and Crosses-like story where the transatlantic slave trade is reversed where a white and enslaved British woman, Doris, is taken to the New World. Evaristo’s long-term publisher Hamish Hamilton admits that Girl, Woman, Other came just at “the right time” which begs the question: the right time for who?