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July 13, 2014 | by  | in Arts Books |
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A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing [Review]

A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING
by Eimear McBride
5/5 stars

A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is a rebellion. It’s a revolution and it’s a punch in the guts. It came out late last year, but the book recently won the prestigious Baileys Prize (formerly known as the Orange Prize for Women’s Fiction). And it’s Eimear McBride’s first novel.

It begins: “For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say.” Straight away, you’ll feel uneasy. How are you supposed to read 264 more pages of this? Let me be honest; it’s not an easy read. But then, should a novel be easy? What does it say about ourselves, if we’re always needing something that’s easy to read?

Nothing about this book is easy, and it shouldn’t be. It’s a coming-of-age novel, beginning with an unnamed Irish girl’s childhood and ending somewhere on the messy cusp of her adulthood. It’s hard work, understanding McBride’s spliced and straitjacketed sentences. Often, you don’t know exactly who is being described or get a clear image of the action, but that’s the point. It’s a stream of consciousness, and this consciousness isn’t trying to make itself understood. It’s not trying to be anything other than what it is: a half-formed thing.

There are moments when the prose feels like poetry fighting really hard to escape from the cracks – or maybe fighting to stay inside its wrappings. In moments like “in the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say”, for instance, the protagonist’s view of her world is suddenly perfectly clear and perfectly imprecise at the same time. McBride captures how it feels, sometimes, for your senses to process something totally overwhelming: utterly clear and quite beautiful, but beyond words and unfit for regular sentences.

You’ll be left feeling stunned, grief-stricken, emboldened, exhausted. I don’t think I’ve felt this specific mix of emotions while reading a book since Sirius died. This book isn’t for you if you faint at the sight of blood and bad grammar. It’s not for a reader who tires quickly. It’s for you if you’re feeling brave and don’t have anything due the next morning.

Eimear McBride’s new language is entirely hers. It’s poetic and brutal. A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing doesn’t need to try to be messy or try to be brave; it just is.

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