I’ve been sitting on this one for ages because honestly, I don’t know how to review it. It is remarkable and difficult and bewildering and heartbreaking. Yes, that was just a list. I told you I don’t know how to review it. I don’t even know how to title a review for it. Anything I write seems too pithy and useless a way to describe this complicated novel.
The story, about a girl growing up in Ireland with a devout mother and a brother whose childhood recovery from a brain tumour is considered miraculous, is engaging and sad and a bit distasteful. The characters are fully formed despite not ever being named. Even as her protagonist leaves home and has her own, devil-may-care adventures, McBride’s focus doesn’t shift off the microcosm of the family she is part of, something that became quite stifling to read. Violence, sexuality and faith form an oppressive mix. The detail is uncomfortable, almost too close for comfort and everything is densely packed and emotionally charged.
But this novel more than the story, it’s also the way McBride has engineered her prose. It is stream of consciousness, capturing the weave and weft of the thoughts of a wide-eyed, tearaway child gradually becoming a furious young adult desire to break the rigidity of her upbringing.
I do not want. I do not want to hear this. But suddenly it’s clawing all over me. Like flesh. Terror. Vast and alive. I think I know it. Something terrible is. The world’s about to. The world’s about to. Tip. No it isn’t. Ha. Don’t be silly. Stupid. Fine. Fine. Everything will be. Fine. Chew it lurks me. See and smell. In the corner of my eye. What. Something not so good.
And I go out and buy you presents. The very next day after this. Knicky knack things I think I hope you’ll like. Some postcards of films. Some tape of a band. Think I’ll wrap them and pack them and stick them in the post. For that’s a little. For a nice surprise. Oh my conscience badly. How is that then? I know. I send them. Those little things and I hope. They’ll stave it. Fix it up. Put it off my little love. So it does it it does not do. What? Whatever it will.
I actually don’t know how she did it. It’s amazing and at first quite difficult to read. It gave me a headache. I found it easier as I persisted and fell into the shifting, fluid style. So often novels that experiment in this way become more style than substance, but McBride manages to excel at both. It was challenging and affecting. I was heartbroken at the end. For reals.
A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, Eimear McBride: five stars. Proceed at your own risk.
Read it if: you have a bit of patience, you want to see what proper writing genius looks like.