A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

A review of the stream-of-consciousness literary novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride.

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A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is the story of a girl and her family, her deeply religious mother, and her older brother who had brain cancer when he was very young. It follows their lives in a stream-of-consciousness style that is lyrical and awkward, beautiful and truncated.

The immediate comparison point is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, another Irish stream of consciousness novel. I found both very difficult to read, and ultimately I’m not sure either is worth it.

The main thing that A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing has to offer is the style. It’s impossible to open it and not find some sentence or phrase that strikes you with its flair or structure.

And all our wounds we picked at. I yours you pick mine the scab of. Itch it. Itch it scratch til we bleed. Till the guck pours out. See it’s better now dabbling a finger in it. See it’s running like water down my leg. See that.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

It’s undoubtedly an amazing example of style and control. Once you carry on past the first ten or so pages, you get used to the voice, and it’s surprisingly easy to keep track of what’s happening. What is happening, though? Not much.

That’s the main reason this book fell short for me. It’s heavy on its own style, but in terms of plot it’s as light as a feather. The unnamed narrator grows up, is abused by her uncle, goes to college, has numerous sexual encounters, and moves back home when her brother’s brain tumour returns. Call me picky, but I want more from a book than a unique narrative style.

This book didn’t leave me with anything; if I think about it now, weeks after finishing reading, I remember the experience of it but very little else. There’s no doubt that A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing deserves praise for its innovative style, but aside from that it just left me cold.

Alice Olivia Scarlett is a freelance editor. She lives in Thanet with the seagulls and parakeets.

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