Author: Eimear McBride, 2013.
Genre: Period Fiction. Ireland. Literary. Post-Modern.
Other Details: Paperback. 205 pages.
Eimear McBride's award-winning début novel tells the story of a young woman's relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood 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 chaotic sexuality 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 at first hand. This isn't always comfortable - but it is always a revelation. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.
Knowing in advance that the structure of this novel was experimental and rather stream-of-consciousness, I took the same approach as I did with Will Self's Umbrella, which was to dive into said stream and immerse myself in it. Thankfully it was a short novel as certainly its fragmented style was challenging and then some.
I wasn't that convinced that this was a love story about a sister and brother or even that the girl was capable of love. She seemed very cut off from her emotions and from early adolescence her way of connecting with others was mainly experienced as a series of anonymous sexual encounters. As the novel was set during an unspecified time in the late 20th Century (likely 1980s pre-AIDS given the 'Star Wars' and Commodore computer references) maybe this was apt. However, it did seem dysfunctional with little to no self-awareness of how desperate it all seemed to be.
There were times when I felt that I was reading a prose poem, quite apt given that the UK publisher, Faber and Faber, does publish modern poets. I returned to the novel a second time, reading some passages aloud and was struck by the power this evoked. It reinforced my sense that this novel was poetic in structure and would very much suit an audio edition.
Still it is very unlikely that I would have read this novel if it hadn't been on the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction short-list as I while I don't mind tackling challenging novels, I prefer them less experimental. It just wasn't my kind of novel even though some of the imagery was beautiful. I feel the phrase "we'll live there for a thousand Lir years" will stay with me a long time.