If James Joyce or Virginia Woolf were a young Irish woman in the 21st century, they may have created a novel as challenging and emotionally confronting, yet ultimately satisfying, as Eimear McBride’s debut, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing.
This harrowing and sometimes darkly humorous story is discordant, difficult and unashamedly experimental. Its structure is fragmented, full of half-formed thoughts, disjointed sentences and garbled ideas, yet somehow it’s completely comprehensible.
Narrated in a stream-of-consciousness style by a troubled and alienated Irish girl, the story explores powerful themes, including fractured family relationships, terminal illness, evangelical Catholicism, raw sexuality and the love between a sister and brother.
Distressed and helpless, the narrator contemplates the ravaging effects of her brother’s cancer, finds relief in his remission, but feels shame and despair as she witnesses his victimisation at school.
After her first confronting and agonising sexual experience, the girl embarks on a chaotic round of sexual conquests to punish the bullies – and herself. Unable to coexist with her malignant mother, she leaves home, returning only when her beloved brother’s health deteriorates.
Through McBride’s blunt and disturbing prose, the reader witnesses the excruciating unravelling of a young woman’s physical, mental and spiritual being. Don’t be surprised to find yourself weeping and grieving for all that she has been through, all that she has lost and all that she is yet to face. This is not an easy read – in terms of subject matter or narrative style – but it is heart-wrenchingly real, absolutely engrossing, and its narrator will force her way into your consciousness.
Published by Text $22.99
Reviewed by Maureen Eppen