Book Review: A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride



by Eimear McBride




An often discussed topic among aspiring writers is the process of breaking through, so to speak. How do I find an agent? Where do I send my manuscript? How do I reach an audience? Will it work out? Often, the answers to the questions are discouraging. The book  industry is very competitive, only a very small percentage out of thousands of manuscript that are sent each month are actually published, etc. A reason for this is that many agents are not quite willing to take a risk on a book that might not sell. And I feel that the best counterargument to that is this book.

Eimear McBride wrote A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing within a few months when she was twenty-seven, and spent the next decade of her life trying to get it published. Agents told her that it was a good book, but that no one would read it. I understand that. The style of the novel is a continuous stream of conciousness of a very high calibre, and it requires some effort from the reader.

While I was hoping it would get at least long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, it went on to win the Baileys Women’s Prize in 2014. I’m very happy it did because it’s a book that has no equal. Such books come along once in a few decades, and it would have been a shame if it got lost in a mountain of discarded manuscripts.

The narrator of the novel is a young girl whose brother has brain cancer. Her relationship with her brother and family, and the effect her brother’s illness had on her, is explored through a thought-driven narrative. It’s reminiscent of the last chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses, but in the twenty-first century. Characters are interwoven in the narrative, and it is sometimes hard to follow without paying close attention, but it is ultimately gripping. Everything is told with a brutal honesty that tears through the pages and grips the reader’s heart.

Following the protagonist’s journey through life, dealing with family issues, sexuality and growing up, from such a close point of view is an unforgettable experience. The book in itself is an enormous achievement on McBride’s part, as well as being an example of something that has to change in the industry. It would be such a step forward if it opened the door for more innovative and experimental writing to be published.