‘A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing’ by Eimear McBride


To read this novel is to experience something remarkable and rare although profoundly discomfiting and emotionally draining.

‘Experienced’ is the apt word because Eimear McBride’s stated intention was to try to immerse the reader in the mind and emotions of her central character, a disturbed young woman whose life is dominated by the effects of her brother’s brain tumour.

She does this by adopting a style which seems to abandon recognisable syntax so that verbs, pronouns and prepositions disappear which initially gives the writing a childlike rhythm.

As you read on though, it soon becomes clear that she’s doing more than simply subtracting words: she’s adding in some, transposing nouns to act as adjectives and adverbs for other, seemingly unconnected nouns. She repeats parts of speech to and vrepeating others and breaking sentences up. It sounds like a mess but it’s carefully controlled and really does work.

It reminds me of Joyce’s ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ or at least uses that novel’s language and stream-of-consciousness as a starting point.

Here’s an example:

For I won’t let go. Even when you’re gone. Time’s going onwards. See it in my clock head. Ticking until you are run down. And I am frightened and I am afraid of the cold. Of the dark. Of the sea. See. I will do my best. For all I am the thing I am for what I am. For you. You.

The immersion is total which meant I read it with my heart in my mouth and often holding my breath. Because there’s no getting around it, this is a bleak and disturbing story and once you’re in you’re in for the whole thing

It’s probably the most discomfiting read I’ve experienced in a long time, possibly since Hubert Selby Jr.’s ‘Last Exit To Brooklyn’ with which it also shares a lot of stylistic and thematic traits.

I’ll have to come back to ‘A Girl is a Half-formed Thing’ once I’ve reread it. I want to know if I was astonished by its novelty or if it was, as I think, something quite remarkable.

It’s a challenge to read because of the distressing subject matter and because of its radical style and structure. But through both it dredges up the most profound emotions and questions. That’s close to my definition of art.

7 thoughts on “‘A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing’ by Eimear McBride

  1. This sounds interesting. Thanks for sharing. Just from your small example of the way it’s written, it also reminds me of Donleavy, The Ginger Man. I might have to give this a read. Also, I have just written about A Portrait and then you mention it, so cool!

      1. Reading really is a blessing, I am having so much fun. About to embark upon Animal Farm and I am super excited…

      2. I haven’t read Animal Farm for a very long time – about time to revisit it I think. Glad you’re enjoying reading so much. It’s the best thing!

      3. It really is – my focus has gone recently but I can slowly feel it returning. Trouble is, I read so much for work that my brain has switched off before I get to my free time. I need to learn how to balance this.

      4. I know what you’re saying, it’s very similar to my experience. I spend all day absorbing and disseminating information and my brain rebels at the thought of more of the same! What’s helped me is not reading too much digitally in my spare time and trying to read about things that don’t occupy my attention for the rest of the day (i.e. mainly fiction or some poetry.) It mostly works.

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