A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (202 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Hawthorn

Eimear McBride’s debut tells, with astonishing insight and in brutal detail, 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 first-hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation.

Touching on everything from family violence to sexuality and the personal struggle to remain intact in times of intense trauma, McBride writes with singular intensity, acute sensitivity and mordant wit. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is moving, funny – and alarming. It is a book you will never forget.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing reveals the inner workings of a girl, from her early years and into adulthood, whose brother suffers from a brain tumor.

What I noticed first about this book is the style. It’s shocking at first, a stream-of-consciousness of sorts, and it takes a while before you get sucked in and you start to distinguish the different voices. The ‘I’ is the narrator, the ‘you’ is her brother with whom she ‘talks’ in her mind. The sentences are chopped up and re-stitched together into ungrammatical, disjointed fragments that are at times revealing and at times confusing. Although reminiscent of Joyce, this novel is far more accessible, and the story can pull a reader in despite the occasional passage that is too obscure to decipher.

The plot of the novel could be summarized in just a few lines, but that doesn’t really give it justice. The real action takes place in the girl’s mind, in her coping with her strict and distant mother, the handicapped brother, and the uncle with whom she starts a disquieting, strange relationship in her adolescence. This is not a light read; rather, it’s disturbing in places and thought-provoking throughout. The girl’s sexual exploits that often border on abuse – but abuse instigated by herself – are difficult to read about and towards the end I felt they became too much.

Although there are some gentle moments between the narrator and her brother, most of the book is a dark read that more or less only allows one ending. Despite that, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is cathartic and gripping in its own way.

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