A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride
Published by Faber & Faber, 2014 (first published by Galley Beggar Press, 2013)
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
I’ve seen this book described as being light on plot. I respectfully disagree. On the contrary, our unnamed narrator’s narrative journey is one of consistent physical and emotional turmoil, as she attempts to process her brother’s ailing health, her mother’s emotional abuse, and her complex attitude towards sexuality – triggered by sexual assault. In that sense, this is not a book to be entered lightly; McBride’s raw portrayal of such harrowing subject matter making for an intense and draining reading experience.
The author plays with language and structure in a way I’ve never seen before. Sentences go unfinished, verbs are often omitted, words trip over each other, and thoughts bleed together in a style that can only be compared to stream of consciousness. This can be disorientating at first – and is sure to alienate some readers – but once you find the rhythm of McBride’s singular prose, it is a wonder to witness language and emotion in their most distilled form.
This fragmented approach is representative of our heroine’s mindset, and ties in beautifully with the book’s title. In her scatter-brained, erratic voice, we see the insecurities of a young woman desperate to find meaning and comfort through an elusive sense of self. Emotionally unmoored by her experiences, and chasing physical pain in an attempt to match and make sense of her inner suffering, McBride shows us what can happen to those who have not been equipped to deal with the cruelties of the real world.
For much of the book, the narrator (whose unwillingness to divulge her name is another nod to her unformed identity) uses direct address aimed at her terminally ill brother. Her love for him is the one thing anchoring her to reality, and in many ways, his decline is mirrored in her own; only where his scars are physical, hers are mental. In moments of distress and panic, the prose is at its most kaleidoscopic, leading us to a climax that feels as inevitable as it is devastating.
Linguistically challenging and emotionally exhausting, it’s a book I would hesitate to recommend casually. That said, I have an immense amount of respect for the uniquely rewarding literary feat that McBride has managed to pull off.
If you’d like to read A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, you can pick up a copy from Book Depository by clicking here.