A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
26 June, 2014
Eimear McBride’s debut novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing seems to have burst onto the literary scene out of nowhere. First published by the independant Galley Beggar Press and now Faber & Faber, it has scooped the Goldsmiths Prize, the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Incredible. And the reviews have all used the word ‘genius’.
And it is. Its experimental, stream of consciousness style is probably not for everyone. It’s a slim book which took a good two weeks for me to read because its staccato rhythm and incomplete sentences, often just words or a jumble of words, stick in your throat and kick out at you, screaming for help. The reading experience is as painful as the experiences of the unnamed narrator, a young girl with an older brother who survived cancer as a child. They live with their mother, their father long gone, abandoned. It’s a harsh world, the siblings trying their best to dodge bullying at school, the indifference of adults, the unwanted attentions of a dodgy relative.
McBride’s raw and visceral style is so difficult. Her themes in her novel, illness, dysfunctional families, abuse, despair and pain, are so tough to take in at times. And there were many times when I didn’t want to continue reading the book. But you want to know why the girl keeps choosing such destructive options for herself. And then you start to see. The little glimpses of why people would act in such a way. How only pain can erase pain. And that if you have been deprived of love and warmth, you would search for love wherever you can get it even if you know that there is something not quite right.
I can’t say I liked A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. It’s bleak and oh so grim. So grim that you begin to see the oppressive quality of religion as warmth. It is probably the second most depressing book I’ve read since Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. But I can’t deny that it is one of the few books which has hit me like a sledgehammer. McBride says that readers don’t need to be drip fed literature, that we want and need difficult writing and to be challenged. And she’s right. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is like nothing I’ve read before and it is brilliant.