A novel by Eimear McBride
If I were feeling melodramatic, I would boldly proclaim that the 3-star overall Amazon rating of Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is nothing short of a travesty. A closer (and calmer) evaluation of Amazon’s seemingly unimpressed readership, however, shows that this lukewarm average rating is in fact the result of a stark polarisation of opinion. Amazon currently shows the most common ratings as being 1-Star and 5-Star, the former winning out at 59 versus 5-star scorers at 55. Such a response, along with the book’s frenzied reception beyond the confines of Amazon, indicates from the onset that A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing will not be a conventional read.
Our nameless female protagonist lives a difficult life with an absent father, borderline abusive mother and a brother who lives in the perpetual shadow of terminal illness. We follow her from childhood, to adolescence, to life as a young adult, and as we do her sexuality becomes a key feature of the novel, something that she both uses and abuses in response to life’s difficulties. Ultimately, we are faced with a case study addressing the needs and wants of a young woman and the role of sexuality in fulfilling those needs.
The subject matter is, admittedly, somewhat bleak and for this reason the book is not an easy read; many negative reviewers described the graphic sexual content of the novel as ‘excessive’ and ‘unnecessary’. For the most part, however, it is McBride’s renouncement of punctuation and standard grammar when telling the story that remains the main source of frustration for Amazon’s 1-Star givers.
‘For you. You soon. You’ll giver her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say. Mammy me? Yes you.’
These are the first 6 sentences of the novel; the only deviation from this style are the occasional snippets of religious rhetoric or prayer. Eimear McBride thus rejects conventional narrative style, adopting a chaotic stream of disjointed language to compliment the chaotic life of the novel’s protagonist. There is, admittedly, a certain persistence necessary when starting the book in order to relax into this literary style, not unlike that which is demanded in order to fully appreciate Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting or The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth. Once achieved, however, the reader experiences the events of this novel with an intimacy which arguably cannot be accomplished with conventional prose. In this way, it is precisely this aspect of the book that lends it its incredible impact.
We receive no descriptive introduction to a chapter, nor colourful character portraits; our heroine remains both nameless and faceless in our minds, as do her mother, brother, uncle and friends. The absence of a solid frame within which the story might gradually unfold means that the reading experience barrels along in an uncontrolled manner. There is a ball of fierce energy, unleashed at the onset of the novel, into which every chaotic assortment of words feeds. The feeling that this energy is headed uncontrollably into the unknown, with no frame to contain it, is incredible.
Ultimately, this momentum is fuelled by the tumultuous emotional journey of the protagonist, who’s anonymity does not prevent us from sharing in her suffering. It is testament to Eimear McBride’s skills as an author that this stream of consciousness, devoid of detail, description and grammatical precision, is able to forge such a strong emotional connection between protagonist and reader.
As Amazon suggests, this book is not for everybody. It requires perseverance and an open mind when it comes to language and steeliness when it comes to unpleasant content. There is a crescendo of violence and distress that takes a little too long to reach its peak, and other points where the momentum could, perhaps, have been better controlled. Nonetheless, by the time the novel ended, I found myself heavy with emotion that was difficult to shake. For this reason, that is, the pure, emotional reaction that this novel inevitably elicits, I would consider the A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing 100% deserved of a 5-star rating.