Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Review: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

In March I always start to long for some beautiful, melancholy Irish literature.  Something to read while munching on Irish soda bread.  This year this crazy novel made the cut.  If you remember, it's been on my list for a while.  If you don't think it sounds like your thing, I still stand by these Irish reads. 

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is a story about love, although the theme is highlighted more by a lack of love and kindness rather than an abundance of it.  The protagonist begins her narration in the womb hearing events unfold, or imagining she remembers them unfolding, and thus claims presence at the most defining moment in her family's life: when her older brother is diagnosed and treated for brain cancer as a toddler.  The story follows this young Irish woman's memory of her childhood.  She is retelling it in honest fullness to her brother whose survival of the brain tumor left him partially intellectually disabled, and this fact shapes so much of her own story.

Her brother is the only person with whom the protagonist seems to truly sympathize.  The affection between the siblings is the only love she experiences.  Her father left the family shortly after her brother's cancer treatment as a small child, and their mother is usually cold and at times abusive.  The only compassion within the family comes from the protectiveness the sister feels for her older brother.

This half-formed girl searches for love in other places and uses sex to escape everything she deals with at home, from shame and loneliness to fear and pain.  Events at home force her to confront these feelings and it becomes obvious that compassion for her brother is the only love she has ever offered.

The writing is raw with half-formed sentences, and a thick Irish accent infects your internal narrator almost instantly.  The phrases are cryptic as lines of poetry.  There are no commas to guide you, no quotation marks or new paragraphs to signal a character's speech.  Nouns are verbs or there are no verbs at all.  It takes a while to get used to McBride's version of English.  I had to reread the first few chapters to fully understand the scenes.  This linguistic anarchy is as close to real human thoughts as I have ever read.  Once you get into the rhythm, your mind recognizes its own scattered, mashed-up way of speaking to itself.

This novel is uncomfortable, difficult, ragged, and ultimately thought-provoking and rewarding.