For you. You'll soon. You'll give her name.
–Eimear McBride - A Girl is a Half-formed thing - c.2013
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.
I mean. This book!
It’s just so brutal, and horrible and terrible, and yet beautiful and wonderful. You aren’t just reading about “the girl’s” life, you are experiencing them.
It’s a difficult read. Hard to get used to at first as it is told in first person POV/stream of consciousness, but more stream of emotion and memory and thought. But it is also a difficult book because of the subject matter. But it is so so worth the read. You really do get sucked utterly into it. And that means that I needed to read it in private, because it feels so intimate and personal that to read it in public felt strange. So it took me a while to get through. Which, I think, is a good thing.
I can understand why people might pick it up, read the first few pages and nope out of it. But, for me, once I got into the rhythm of it I just thought it was fantastic, and I can totally understand why it won so many awards. It is just so good.
The narrator goes through so much, and her brother… I’m not going to mention any details, but I will say that this is a book that does need a trigger warning. Familial abuse. Sexual abuse. And because you are inside the narrator’s head it all feels so immediate and so so real. There are so many people you just want to scream at, to ask them what the hell they think they are doing to this brother and sister!
You wish someone with an ounce of decency could come and help. It isn’t that sort of book though, it offers no escape and no answers. It is the girl’s experiences and that is all it is, because how could you try to offer any more than that.
It’s also a book that might be more difficult for non-Irish people, or non-catholics to understand. In parts at least. Religion is such a part of this family’s life, and occasionally the stream of consciousness veers into prayers. Making me so aware of how much religion has been in my own life. All those prayers that you learn off by rote while growing up, and then, if you’re me, never think of again, they’re still all there floating about in your head and need only the smallest prompting to get you to repeat them again. “Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy.
Hail my life, my sweetness and my hope!
To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve!
To you do we send up our sighs;
mourning and weeping in this vale of tears! ” etc., etc. etc.
Yeah, I’m certainly a cultural catholic.
But if you’re not Irish, and not catholic I’d still recommend that you give this book a try. As I said earlier, I can see why some won’t get past the first couple of pages, but if it works for you then it is such a great, horrible, wonderful, upsetting book.