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A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear…

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (2013)

by Eimear McBride

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  buriedinprint | Jun 14, 2017 |
When the female narrator of this story is born her brother is just over two years old and is recovering from an operation, followed by chemotherapy, to reduce the size of his brain tumour. The treatment has been partially successful but has left him with some physical impairments, and there remains the ever-present fear that the tumour will grow again. Her father, unable to cope with all the stress of seeing his son so ill, leaves home before she is born, leaving her mother to bring up both children on her own, relying on religious faith to give her the strength to cope.
None of the characters in this intense, disturbing and memorable, coming-of-age story is ever given a name and, for me, that added to the intensity of the narrator’s reflections on her experiences of living her life in the constant shadow of her brother’s vulnerability and her search for her own identity. Her mother is physically and emotionally abusive towards her, and yet she is also sometimes surprisingly loving. From the age of thirteen an uncle abuses her and other relatives are ever-ready to find fault with her apparently wild, blasphemous behaviour. She seems to make lots of bad choices and yet her love and touching concern for her brother remain constant, even when this seems to be at the expense of her own needs. Religion, sin, guilt, shame, blame, hypocrisy, brutality and the omnipresence of priests are constant influences on her as she struggles to discover who she is, and what life holds for her.
Once I was able to enter into the narrator’s broken speech-patterns and mangled syntax and could “hear” the rhythm of her words, not easy at to begin with, I felt totally drawn into this disturbing, raw and very moving story. I think it is a remarkable piece of writing which evocatively captures the reflections of the inner life of a child/young woman as she attempts to make sense of the situations she finds herself in. Some of the descriptions of the violence in the family background, almost casually brutal at times, felt almost unbearable to read, as did the numerous incidents of bullying, sexual abuse, prejudice, bigotry and hypocrisy. The background of rural, Catholic Ireland, dominated by the church, religion and the all too powerful influence of the priests made me increasingly angry as the story progressed to its all too painful conclusion. By the time I finished the book I felt emotionally battered by the experience of feeling so immersed in this young woman’s life. This was not, in anyway, an easy book to read (nor is it easy to do it justice to in a review!) but I am pleased that I persevered with it. I know that it will continue to haunt me for a long time. ( )
  linda.a. | Jun 12, 2017 |
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is a both deeply beautiful and deeply unsettling book. Although the structure of the novel itself is in fact fairly conventional and linear, the language is anything but expected or conventional. There are few coherent sentences, and yet the story itself has a coherent flow if you allow the words their own space and their own musicality. I suppose one might think it the author was attempting to write in a stream of consciousness mode, but that is not exactly it. More likely the language seems to be attempting to explore that indistinct bridging between the inner primitive instinctual reaction and conscious thought. The language of the novel seems to float in shifting sands between the rawness of instinct and the music of poetry. In fact I would say this novel is far easier to read if you approach it as it was an epic poem. Then the language can capture something elusive, and beautiful, in the story, even though the story itself is tragic. Another point, even though one feels one knows the main character here, this too is an just an impression. We read, and think we know the narrator's thoughts, but just as we ourselves are more than just our instinctual selves, so too this narrator, but we never really see her fully, just as we are never told anything about the physical being of any of the characters. It is a haunting novel of pain and suffering and love, but also of knowing and not-knowing, and as such, I think it will remain with me for a long time ( )
1 vote dooney | Nov 11, 2016 |
I recognize that this a well-crafted piece of literature, but it did not work for me. I am duly disappointed in myself. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
It was an epiphanic reading of Ulysses on a train ride that changed Eimear McBride’s approach to writing. What must it have been like to be in her own mind for those six intense months of writing this? Ten years it took to find a publisher. I think most publishers’ minions likely couldn’t imagine stacking this in the mid-aisle tables of Walmart/Tesco and just tossed it in the WTF pile.
“I’m having bile thoughts. Great green ones of spite and their sloppedy daughters with tongues too long to keep in their mouths.”

It is a wildly askew balance, that of the creative imagination of the author and the dearth of one in the publisher. Ruled by sheep-flocks of marketers and number-crunchers, not readers. Still, the book managed to float up to the adoring notice of the critics.

This is a perfect title, for the story, for the writing style.
“They polyester tight-packed womanhood aflower in pink and blue or black and green coats if the day has rain. Their boots in the hallway, crusty with cow dung or wet muck. If in Sunday skirts, every pleat a landscape of their grown-up bodies. Tired. Under- touched. Flesh having run all night after the cows. Flesh carry sacks of turf up lanes from the shed and spurt out child and child and child. Son he has wanted. Girl he did not.”

The thoughts don’t obey boundaries, so neither do the words. It’s a feat of articulating inarticulateness. A paradox.
“Later it ran up me. Legs stomach knees chest up head. Like smoke in my lungs to be coughed out. I’d throw up excitement. What is it? Like a nosebleed. Like a freezing pain. I felt me not me. Turning to the sun. Feel the roast of it. Like sunburn. Like a hot sunstroke. Like globs dropping in. Through my hair. Spat skin with it. Blank my eyes the dazzle. Huge shatter. Me who is just new. Fallen out of the sky. What. Is lust it? That’s it. The first splinter. I. Give in scared. If I would. Stop. Him. Oh God. Is a mortal mortal sin.”

It is like an impressionist painting. If you try to impose preconceived notions of sentence, paragraph structure (artificial superfluous layers in a way), then you will drown in the chaotic fragments. Instead, let it settle upon you like a diaphanous layer of understanding. It is the impression of it that will fill in the details.

“Something awful’s going to. You can’t believe it away.”

Words, sentences, paragraphs are conventional tools to convey a story. They are separate from the story. Here, they are part of the narrator. They are her thoughts.
The story isn’t new. It is tragic, it is brutal, and it is a sadly familiar kind of tale.
But the telling of it…the writing…that is sublime. ( )
  TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
Writing of this quality is rare and deserves a wide readership.

Apart from Joyce, other major influences seem to be Henry Green’s Living and Party Going and the breathless accumulated fragments of Samuel Beckett’s How It Is. But such models are subordinate to the author’s own distinctive voice. The novel is reassuringly conventional in structure – a chronological account of school, adolescent rebellion, loss of virginity (a brilliantly rendered episode), conflicting loyalties, flight from home to college, undergraduate depravity, the death of a grandfather, a wake (also brilliantly rendered), a rejection of religion, and the psychological contortions of love and sex. Above all it explores the narrator’s love for her dying brother, which underpins the most emotionally charged episodes in a very moving book.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0957185324, Paperback)

Eimear McBride's novel tells the story of a young woman's relationship with her brother who is living with the after effects of a brain tunour. 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 sensual urges 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:36 -0400)

Eimear McBride's novel tells the story of a young woman's relationship with her brother who is living with the after effects of a 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 sensual urges 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.… (more)

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