Review by Meg Tobin-O’Drowsky
The moving, heart-wrenching, and painful story that is Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing won the Goldsmiths Prize, Bailey’s Women’s Prize, Kerry Group Award, Desmond Elliott Prize, and was shortlisted for the Folio Prize. So it might be surprising for some to learn that it took McBride nine years to find a publisher for her critically acclaimed and arguably industry-changing book. Galley Beggar Press of Norwich finally picked it up in 2013 (with Faber signing on to publish the paperback and ebook editions in 2014). It’s been a long, hard journey for McBride and her story of a girl doing her best to cope with her family, her brother’s illness, and the difficulties life is throwing her way.
Yes, Eimear McBride’s debut novel is experimental, something for which it has been praised time and again, but that isn’t all it is. It pushes the boundaries of the novel form, it’s told stream of consciousness style, it’s unconcerned with grammar, it spans twenty years…It’s gutsy. McBride takes risks with the form that are even more impressive when one considers she’s a debut novelist. And those are no doubt the reasons she had so much trouble finding a publisher. But beyond the heroics it performs, it is at its heart a story about a girl, a story that makes the reader feel things she didn’t know she could feel, that puts the reader in the mind of the protagonist. These are feats (ones with which even many veteran writers struggle) more impressive than McBride’s unconventional prose. The form doesn’t distract or detract, because the reader is so engrossed with the story at hand.
The range of emotions McBride manages to induce in the reader is unparalleled by anything in recent memory. I can’t begin to list them, and many cannot even be named. To make the reader feel heart-ache, agony, physical discomfort, nausea, and so much more would be simply unbelievable if it weren’t McBride doing it, if it weren’t this story.
Reading A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is work. But it’s the type of work that one really enjoys, like spending hours preparing that difficult-to-make but perfect meal. It isn’t for the lazy reader; it’s for the one who is willing to work a little to be fully transported to another world, a world in which it is often difficult to be. The general consensus though, one with which I whole-heartedly agree, is that while it is a difficult read, it is one that must be read.