Eimear McBride’s debut tells, with astonishing insight and in brutal detail, the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. Not so much a stream of consciousness, as an unconscious railing against a life that makes little sense, and a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist, to read A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head, experiencing her world first-hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation.
Touching on everything from family violence to sexuality and the personal struggle to remain intact in times of intense trauma, McBride writes with singular intensity, acute sensitivity and mordant wit. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is moving, funny – and alarming. It is a book you will never forget.
I have a grave fear that if I’m not careful this review is going to be a Half-formed thing so here goes:
My first thoughts upon finishing this novel were like a stream of consciousness itself. It seemed as if the novel had literally blasted my train of thought and left me with a series of broken uncertainties, which were flooding my consciousness.
It just didn’t seem to fit within my usual book rating system.
Did I like the novel? No, I don’t think that like is a sentiment you can apply to this particular novel.
Did I love this novel? Definitely not. It was a disturbing read.
But did I admire the person who had written this? Absolutely.
Will I forget it? Most probably not.
In my wildest dreams I could not imagine writing such a novel. No doubt that is why A Girl is a Half-formed Thing has won numerous awards: Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize, the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award, and shortlisted for the Folio Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize, and the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award.
So a difficult novel to review and rate. I found the first paragraph almost incomprehensible: For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say. Mammy me. Yes you. Bounce the bed, I’d say. I’d say that’s what you did. Then you lay you down. They cut you round. Wait and hour and day.
Somehow, the writing style became easier to decipher and understand as the novel progressed but trust me when I say it is not a novel to read while wrapped up in your duvet at night with a nice cup of hot chocolate, and fluffy pink and white marshmallows. No, the themes are disturbing, shocking, and sickening. There are brief humourous interludes that attempt to lighten the load but these are few and far between. In this short novel Eimear McBride tackles sexual abuse, religious fanaticism, love, dysfunctional families and grief at the loss of a family member, in a very raw and exposed way. This is not a novel for the faint-hearted. In my opinion, it should carry a health warning: Read on if you are prepared to enter the dark mind of an abuse victim. This novel is predominantly about a young woman who has suffered dreadful sexual abuse at the hands of her uncle, and her relationship with her brother who has a brain tumour. So not light reading.
The form of writing used in this novel, a stream of consciousness, works because it strips back the story to the bare, exposed elements, leaving very little room for fuller character or descriptive element, and therefore the reader can’t help but feel even more disturbed by the events within the novel. It is just so raw, and painful.
The way that Eimear Mcbride handles the ownership of grief is very startling, the mother and the daughter both want to be in control, to be the focal point of the dying man, this causes conflict at a time when they should be supporting each other. Grief can make people behave in a very strange, and destructive way, especially if there are deep-rooted relationship issues as there are in this case. The victim of abuse in this novel has been so damaged at a young age that she becomes the seeker of abuse, almost validating the original abuse, in a state of “sin” until this ultimately destroys her.
I can only recommend this to those readers who might appreciate a very sad, but thoughtful read. I will be listening to Eimear McBride discuss her long and difficult journey to getting this novel published at the Cambridge Literary Festival this coming weekend so more details on that to come.
Interesting interview with the author: http://www.thewhitereview.org/interviews/interview-with-eimear-McBride/
Have you read A Girl is A Half-Formed Thing? Do comment below I’d love to hear from you.
Bye for now,
Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx