on 19 May 2015
I "read" the audio-version after seeing the stage adaptation some time earlier and at first I thought how hearing the author read her story in the way in which it was intended helped to make sense of the text. Actually, I still feel it was helpful, but whereas in the first half of the book it managed to hold my attention, as the second half wore on my poor brain began to grow tired of listening. I did quite like the style of writing but the frequent ramblings which seemed to consist of any old word or two plucked from the dictionary and thrown at the page willy-nilly whether they made sense or not were too many and too often in my opinion. A very hard-going book which is a shame since I really loved the story.
I shall now re-write this review, but in the style of the book ...
I read. I. Not read. Listened. Shhh. Book on tape words not on page. Words. Just words. I. You. How? What? Kettle. Spring. Stage was seen but interest piqued, keen to read but more of this. I. You. Of that. Words. Waterfalls. Several bananas. A plankton party. Audio would make more sense I thought. And it did. Did for a while but grew weary. Shhh. Ears can't focus. I. Focus. Organ. Brain shuts down. For the words. To many. Too many words. Too many bananas. Apples would be preferred. Yes. No. Not. Yes. Apples. I. Carousel turning. Too many words and little sense made. Shhh. Waterfalls of words, too many for the plankton. A bit. A lot. Oh a lot. Story was fine but going was hard. Hard. Limescale on the kettle. Lacking in apples. I wonder.
on 17 August 2015
Finished A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (2013) and unfortunately it did not ultimately live up to its initial promise. While I appreciate McBride's attempts to capture the spirit of Joyce in her prose, it's not nearly as satisfyingly enigmatic as Ulysses & Co, and thus it comes across as half-baked or merely imitative. It's also far more repellent than Joyce or Faulkner, and McBride returns, consistently, to graphic sex (and abuse) scenes that add little to the novel... Poor characters too.
If you are going to take the plunge and read something experimental, there are many other authors, both male and female, who have done a better job. One review on this site suggested that "sometimes the syntax seemed to have been warped simply to make the sentence sound odder, rather than to reflect the way the character might have been thinking." I agree completely.
on 25 November 2014
November reading-group book. [Spoiler alert]
The case for. Poignant evocation of sibling love in a malignant world, culminating in an excoriatingly accurate rendition of the incoherence of thought and feeling when someone you love is dying, is dead. Heartfelt. Raw, honest talent.
The case against: Should come with a health warning: don’t read in a northern November or if you’re depressive. Cancer, Catholicism, child abuse, impulsive promiscuity, masochism, rape, death, loss and suicide. Relentless staccato, experimental prose-poetry. You she he she you I I I. Yes, accomplished. Yes very. Yes oh but. Cup of tea. My. Not my. Not. 203 pages of solipsistic anguish. Over. Now. Phew.
on 27 November 2015
so so so awful. i hated almost every minute. pretty sure all the awards are a result of the emperor's new clothes syndrome, as if you rewrote it in English you'd find neither the plot nor the characters interesting. as it is though it's written in pathetic fragments which, painful enough the first time, you are forced to reread far too often because (surprise surprise) the meaning is often lost when you dispense with grammar and half the words you need to say something. felt like marking a never ending self indulgent melodramatic and boring essay by an illiterate teenager with delusions of grandeur. thank god it's over and thank god [spoiler] in the end. what a waste of money. stay far far far away.
on 24 August 2015
I gave up on this less than 20% of the way in: I found it unreadable.
The "stream of consicousness" style is just too difficult to follow, without throwing into the mix such things as the irish brogue, references to Catholicism or the fact that I was never sure if the narrator was brain damaged or had a psychological disability.
Also, nothing really happened. It was just the girl's experience of life, in short bites.
I gave up on it and have deleted it from my kindle. It's not something I'd come back to.
This was a difficult read on all levels. There was the use of language, which took me a couple of goes to get into and the subject matter itself.
The story is written in the first person by an unnamed girl, addressed to her unnamed brother about their lives in a number of unspecified locations in Ireland. The language used is arguably a fair reflection of the narrator's emotional fragility and initially makes some sense as the utterings of a small child. I was looking after my 2 year old niece when I started the book so listening to her helped me get my head round it.
The main problem with the language is that it doesn't develop much beyond this, so starts to feel disingenuous when you consider that the book covers 20 odd years including the girl passing her Leaving Cert and proceeding to university. I would have expected her to have strung at least one sentence together in the process.
The emotional and physical pain that the story involves is relentless. When it's not being inflicted on the girl she goes about looking for it. Again this is arguably a coping mechanism trying to blot out emotional pain with physical, but it quickly erodes any empathy for the character and is very repetitive.
There are a couple of references to Irish mythology thrown in towards the end but this just seemed pretentious rather than interesting. I could add some flippant comments about half-formed sentences but I'm too drained after persevering to the end.
on 25 August 2014
The first thing everyone says about this book is ‘it’s a hard read’.
It is. Unconventional in its prose style: confrontational in its subject. McBride’s fractured rendition of conversations and distinctively Irish English, plus the disregard for the norms of punctuation, dialogue tags or attribution makes the reader either work hard or relax.
I recommend the latter. Forget the fact standard reader-signposts are absent and realise you are not being told a story, but being drawn into an experience.
Our unnamed narrator expresses herself and her formative experiences with feeling rather than eloquence– as the author puts it, ‘balancing on the moment just before language becomes formatted thought’.
There is much to think about; familial bonds, the strictures and comforts of religion, the unfairness of disease, perceptions of self and identity as defined in the eyes of others and female sexuality and how it can be (ab)used. McBride neither shows nor tells of the love, shame and guilt battling within our protagonist. By dint of brutal poetry and risky narration, she makes the reader feel it too.
This is the third book I’ve read from independent small publishers Galley Beggar Press, and I’m so glad they exist. Otherwise books like this would not.
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.
on 26 September 2014
Relentlessly bleak, this novel tells the story of a girl growing up in Ireland in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Her brother had a brain tumour before she was born, and the consequences of this have shattered her family long before she even emerges into the world.
I found very little to like about this book. While I have enjoyed many novels which rely stylistically on the inner thoughts of their protagonist (Woolf, Haddon, etc.), I didn't like the way this one was written. Sometimes the syntax seemed to have been warped simply to make the sentence sound odder, rather than to reflect the way the character might be thinking. This syntactic strangeness pushed me out of the book and broke the spell, in several places.
I felt desperately sorry for the main character, but was also enormously frustrated with the seemingly thoughtless choices she made. I had very little sense of the mother, who faded more and more into the background as the story went on. The brother was also a terribly sad character, whose whole being was blighted by the after-effects of his childhood tumour, and I felt the protective feelings his sister had towards him were very well portrayed - but not enough, sadly, to save the book, for me.
Meg Rosoff said once, at a book festival I attended, that she felt it was fine to write about bleak subjects in children's literature, as long as you put a 'ladder of hope' in there for the reader. I must say, I think that this should apply to adult fiction too. There was no hope in this book. It was tragic and bleak, and God knows there are enough people in this world whose lives truly are that dreadful, but I think that to get your reader to really connect with a story (for this reader, anyway), there needs to be some element of light in there. This was pure darkness, and difficult to engage with because of that. I shan't be recommending this to anyone else to read...
The worst book I've read (or tried to read) since Will Self's Umbrella.
Impenetrable nonsense. Couldn't get past the first 3 pages. Tortured sentences, nonsense. What?
There are people who like these kinds of books, and I am not one of them. Sentences that don't make sense, sentences that are just phrases, splintered language. Not for me. This is one of those books where reading the first paragraph in a bookshop before buying is a MUST. Unnecessary work. Not a pleasurable experience.