Monday, August 4, 2014

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

Written in six months, unpublished for almost ten years, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing has been taking the literary world by storm lately.  Picked up by a newly formed independent publisher in Norwich the untouched manuscript has gone on to garner international prizes such as the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction as well as garnering rave reviews from many critics.  It has been heralded as a new narrative form, mimicking Joyce’s Ulysses, with a broken syntax and weaving narrative leaving the reader unsure of the certainties and very insecure as they begin to read this startling debut novel.

It is difficult to read.  If you are used to narrators talking you slowly through their lives: pointing out the important people, what he said and what she said, this will be difficult for you to wrap your head around.  Personally, I found that by around page 20 my own thoughts had begun to be formed in the same manner as the novel: short, succinct, the bare minimum.  And for something which everybody will tell you is difficult to read it isn’t difficult to read because it is boring, obtuse, or longwinded it is difficult to read purely because we, as readers, are so used to narratives being easy to follow and all of the necessary information being neatly and helpfully presented to us when we begin reading.

McBride sought to mimic the pattern of thought, the speed, the brevity of words rushing through a girl’s mind as she grows up in tragic circumstances.  Her father is absent, she later learns that he died when she was growing up, and her brother has a scar, for reasons nobody is truthful about, and severe learning difficulties which mean she’s ostracised at school.  She seeks comfort in sex, in the physical sensation, not the emotional connection and you read what she thinks, in the jumbled and messy order she thinks them.  She’ll spot something and the narrative will jump from a to b and back to a again but I think once you’re used to the style it becomes quite natural and as McBride has said herself: reader’s want to be challenged.  And you will be challenged with this read: it deals with heavy emotional issues in an appropriately complicated format but it leaves you deeply connected with this girl, despite never learning her name.

If you’re dubious over whether this novel deserves the hype it has been receiving recently I, personally, believe the answer is yes. I am also well aware that I am a fan of stream-of-consciousness narrative style which others find deeply off-putting.  I would say though – don’t give up on it immediately.  Keep reading, and if you’re at page 50 and still don’t really know what’s going on, you probably won’t find much enjoyment from the rest of the novel as it continues in the same vein.  I hope you will persevere though and come to appreciate the wonderful work which McBride has done.

If nothing else, this is a novel which has shown-up the big name publishers, and hopefully given them something to think about the next time they come across a difficult manuscript.  Some readers DO want to be challenged and don’t just want another rip-off of 50 shades of grey, thanks.

A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is available on kindle for £4.20


Alice said...

Wonderful review, A Girl is a Half-formed thing was such an amazing read. I thought I was going to hate it, but as you've said you soon find yourself adjusting to the pattern and thinking accordingly. Stripped of a usual books narrative ease it is somehow easier to read. My brain was thankful for the extra effort in not replying on the information books usually supply us with. I think it was also a interesting demonstration of what details a book may not need to still be coherent and interesting.

Unpublished Life said...

Thanks so much for this review - I am sufficiently intrigued. I'll definitely give it a go and persevere with it!

Anonymous said...

I am intrigued! I've seen the title of this book a couple of times, but never took to the time to find out what it is about. I like stream-of-consciousness narrative style, so I'm definitely interested in reading this.

Danielle D said...

This has been on my 'to read' list for AGES, I really need to get onto reading it!


Cup of Loveliness

Anonymous said...

I've read another review of this book and it seemed like that reviewer and you are on a similar wave length. I had been intrigued then, even more so now!
Bits & Bobs

Julie Sims said...

Wow, I'm definitely interested. It sounds like Ulysses meets Chocolates for Breakfast, which also just came back after 50ish years out of print too and is about a girl coming-of-age.

Amanda Johansson said...

This sounds so interesting! I've not read many books that are stream-of-consciousness. I might have to put this on the TBR pile! x

jennie said...

I was surprised by this book, I almost expected not to like it, it was challenging both in style and subject matter but I liked the challenge! x

Caroline said...

Thanks for this review. I finished reading the book last week and I think your thoughts are spot on. The style of the narrative doesn't in any way take away from the story - rather it makes it.

The chaotic and disjointed feel of the novel where you have to uncover for yourself what is going on works so well here as one can imagine this is what life is like for this young woman.

Miranda Dobson said...

This sounds so intriguing, I can't wait to pick it up! Thank you for the review.

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