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66 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even better than the real thing, 11 Dec 2013
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This review is from: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (Paperback)
A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, proudly bearing a quote from Anne Enright on the front cover of the Australian edition, reminds readers of what The Gathering might have been.

The style is experimental. Verbs are scarce - apparently Eimear McBride wanted to portray just what the girl saw - and sentences tend to be fragmentary. In particular, in the opening sections when the girl is a young child, the ideas are not even half-formed and the narrative is hard to follow. The reader has to read between the lines. Later on, as the girl passes through teenage and on to young adulthood, the ideas are clearer and the narrative has a firmer shape. This could be a relief, except that the subject matter becomes darker and darker as the narrative clears.

Growing up in rural Ireland some time ago (exact timing is not clear, probably 1980s/1990s), life has dealt the girl a modest hand. There are people in the world far worse off, but there are others who have landed up with broader horizons and happier home lives. The girl's father has died; her brother is a brain tumour survivor; her uncle is creepy and her mother lacks any strength of resolve. Despite this, the girl manages to fly the nest and study at university.

The novel does have a plot - and a slow-burning shocker it is too - but the strength is the use of this extraordinary narrative style to build a world and build a person. It is not so much about what happens to the girl as about how it affects the girl. How and whether it changes her development. This is the joy of the title - we see a young person with a distinctive personality nevertheless being moulded and shaped as she grow by those around her. Right up until the end, it's not quite clear what the final shape will be, how nature and nurture will resolve their struggle against one another.

The narrative style does come with frustrations too. There's no point pretending that there weren't times that I wanted to throw the book across the room, slowly plodding through a soupy mire of abstractions. There were times one wanted to tell Eimear to just get on with it - especially the first half of the final section feels overlong. But miraculously, it is all pulled back at the end; all the effort seems worthwhile and the flabby sections no longer feel flabby. There is great beauty in the novel, but you only appreciate it by standing back at the end and seeing the whole. Does that sound pretentious?

There have been comparisons made to Joyce and Beckett. I can see that, though this is not as abstract as Finnegan's Wake, not as narrative as Ulysses and a whole lot warmer than Beckett. If anything, it reminded me of Edna O'Brien's Country Girls or John McGahern's The Dark - provincial and unexpectedly primitive, but with bright lights of opportunity shining through at times. There is a risk that Girl is a derivative, imitative work that will be dismissed as a fraud. But right here, right now, it feels like a genuine, authentic article that represents the emergence of a monster talent. If I had doubts when I laid the book down, they are evaporating by the hour. Girl has the hallmarks of a major work of our time.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 5 Jun 2014 11:59:35 BDT
Last edited by the author on 5 Jun 2014 12:03:31 BDT
D A Winser says:
There are several errors in this review. The girl's father doesn't die: he leaves. I'll quote from the book "What you're saying? Breath. Going? Leaving? But he's just stopped dying. This one's to come. Please don't no I won't stop you. Could never make you do a thing. You'll support us. Aren't you great?". Pretty clear, I'd say (obviously 'clear' by the standards of this book).
Also, there is no indication that the girl studies 'across the water'. On the contrary, she goes home by train. And the uncle is not just 'creepy': he rapes the girl at thirteen. Did you just skim read it?

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Jun 2014 23:27:52 BDT
Last edited by the author on 5 Jun 2014 23:28:41 BDT
The girl's father definitely dies: "She says I've something to tell you after all. Your father's hmmm. Your father's, sit down. What? Shush. Dead. A while ago I got a letter from his mother, once it was over and done. She said he took a stroke. Quick."

The university section goes to some length not to give a firm location. I had read the train as the boat train that people in rural Ireland used to travel to industrial cities in the north of England. Looking back at this section I might have read too much into it and the narrative could be consistent with Dublin or another Irish city. But what matters is not so much the location as the fact it represents a "new world", as the girl describes it, with new freedoms and opportunities. Moreover, the fact that the girl, from a single parent family from the countryside is given this opportunity is a sign that she is loved and wanted; it is not a story of grinding poverty and privation.

The question of the uncle... I picked my words carefully. Had I said, as you do, that the girl was raped by the uncle at the age of 13, it would (a) have lessened the impact when the reader discovers it and (b) would have ended up, for the purposes of my review, defining the novel. This latter point is important. The novel is about the girl, not about a rape. It is not about my reaction to a rape, or your reaction to a rape, but the girl's reaction. After the initial shock, the girl brushes aside the actual act. But the uncle remains a menacing, brooding presence in the margins of her life. "Creepy" might not be the perfect word, but it is close enough to what I was trying to convey.

If I might add - this novel is not supposed to be a comprehension test. It's not about unpicking obscure sections to get a clear picture of events, chronologies, facts. It's about a psychological state of being in which two contradictory beliefs can both be held at the same time. It's about a feel, a vibe. In reading this just as a surface exercise to ascertain what happened, you risk missing huge levels of depth.
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MisterHobgoblin
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