A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

I was first attracted to this by the seventies-style cover, which cheekily introduces a rosy apple at the bottom; only if you look closely do you see that the apple is starting to go bad. It’s a good metaphor for this story which is raw and bitter, but leaves you wide-eyed as if drunk.

It’s told by a young girl whose brother has a brain tumour; with all the family attention focused on him, no one notices her, leaving her ripe to be picked by a predator. As she navigates puberty and adolescence she learns that her sexuality is her only currency, and her only power. But that power is an illusion, and she’s heading straight for catastrophe.

The most striking thing about this debut novel is the narrative style. The sentences are short and the words are often in the wrong order, grammatically incorrect and with conjunctions missing. The result is a raw, dislocated narrative – very intense, as you get a sense of her emotions punching through her thoughts:

“I know that look that vicious look of him to me now. And the usual inner throb in me. Knives in heart in lungs come a spoon scoop me out. Scoop me out for what he want. But I go past him still. Feel the busy silent want of me. Know. I know that, see that, know it now. How strange my baptise renders me. His want me. Fuck me if he could and I and I and I and I. I have that. And I do not. Do not need. Have something else I need to do. There’ll others. Some others. Some day more who want me I want to fuck them too. Thanks uncle for sage introduce. I left him dripping in the door. Ha. He did not get me after all.”

It’s certainly not an easy read, and one that I will definitely re-read – full of subtexts and hints and resonances that you don’t fully appreciate the first time round. But it’s utterly compelling, creating a unique voice, and the sense of being trapped inside her head is overwhelming. I think this novel justly deserves the prizes it’s won, and Eimear McBride is a novelist to watch.

Faber and Faber, 2013, ISBN 9780571317165

Published by Jo

Writer, Editor, Librarian

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