Eimear McBride's A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (2014)

A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing - Eimear McBride


Then Not.

Sharp sentences.

Jabbing thoughts.

Unkindnesses bearing down.

Book, set aside.



And here is where the experience of reading A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing may end for many readers.


Some, however, will lick their wounds and pick up the book again, return to Eimear McBride's unconventional novel. 


Like W.G. Sebald, the line between fact and fiction is blurred.


Like Anakana Schofield's Malarky, the narrative is saturated with voice.


The other novels shortlisted for this year's Bailey's Fiction Prize are traditional novels: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah, Hannah Kent's Burial Rites, Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland, Audrey Magee's The Undertaking and Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch.


A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is not what readers expect to find on a literary fiction prizelist. It is the sort of novel one expects to find in a catalogue for an indie press which dabbles in translations.


In many ways Eimear McBride's novel almost needs a translator. At least, if one rarely ventures from the styles of works which more commonly appear on longlists and shortlists.


A lot of readers will undoubtedly be shocked by the painful story, which is almost tangibly painful for readers because the form so perfectly mirrors the narrator's struggle.

Sometimes the pain is described overtly:


"And the blender go off inside me such my heart lungs my brains in. Rip my stomach out. They mean it and this time It’s true. I looked at you. And you seem to me your eyes are glitching off and on. Are absent."


Sometimes the numbness is just as difficult to bear:


"Twist to look like I’m in here not just sitting by myself. Lay in the grass. Foots trodding dance around. See up skirts. In trousers. Music pumping ground under my head. I think some poems I’ll write. Bout. Sights. Remember. This wood smell of. Damp and. Dandelions stain on my bare leg. Sip up my. Sip and slurp it drink. Think of being by myself. Here. In this stranger’s downstairs flat. That. Whirl. Some fella coming up. Do you mind if I sit here and who are you then? Who are you? Do I know you no I do not. I turn my head is very slow and."


The structure is amorphouse, readers suspended in the narrator's consciousness.


"And we do get our flat and we live just the same. Some days weeks time go by."

And, yet, some moments are stretched out, linger for readers to inhabit more fully. Though not in a welcoming way.


"Wander about the months sucking my teeth that you hurt. Touch and touching-up my eye. Packed in and up that life between my thighs. Keep it now for alone at night, for my thoughts to blister on. Can I meet you round the back at lunch? Just fuck off. You all can."


A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is a novel whose style is remarkable and yet the fact that it is so remarkable is perhaps even more remarkable; Eimear McBride's novel stands out starkly against the comfortable same-ness of style on literary prizelists. Not that it is her debut. Not that she worked on the book for so many years before securing a publisher. Not that she is a young woman. Eimear McBride has published a novel which is different. And how strange that this is remarkable for a creative endeavour.

These thoughts first appeared here, on BuriedInPrint.