Eimear McBride’s debut novel A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is a modern-day Joycean expedition into the disjointed thoughts of a haunted, unnamed girl. Following this unnamed narrator from birth until twenty years old, McBride’s novel takes on a prosody which mirrors the alacrity of events that take place. Told as a stream of consciousness, the narrator takes us through the horrors of her child and young adulthood all along addressing “you,” her brother, as if he were the recipient of her tale.
Within pages of the novel, we find that the narrator’s brother was born with a brain tumor and his sight, hearing, equilibrium and brain development have been severely affected by this past illness. The narrator’s mother is an abusive single parent whose love of religion and the ideas bound up in religiosity far outweigh her actual participation and investment in the ideals of the church. We meet other significant characters in the narrator’s life, all of whom negatively impact her and lead her further down a road toward corruption and dissociation with herself and her body.
A major theme in A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is the disparate ideas of purity that surround the narrator. What purity means to those within the Christian faith, what it means to the narrator, to her mother, and to the world at large severely shadow the events of the novel. The narrator, though she seems to denounce Christianity, cannot help but feel the pull of its ideals that have been instilled in her since childhood. Constantly obsessing over purification and baptism, the narrator simultaneously seeks out disdainful actions and repels them at the same time, though she hardly ever escapes a negative situation with success.
Coupled with this idea of purity is the role of the body and the question of whether purity of body or mind is more important. There is constantly a disassociation of the self from the body, as the narrator begins to use sex and physical abuse as a form of consolation for her troubles. Echoed by the slow death of her brother’s body, the narrator too becomes more and more detached from the body which she subjects to abuse, often commenting on the emptiness inside of her that she seeks to fill.
The novel moves at a pace that often cascades so quickly, it’s easy to lose sight of exactly what’s happening as you get caught up in the often fragmented, sometimes half-formed, language that fills each page. The rapid cadence of A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing proves to propel the novel forward with a dire momentum that positions the reader constantly on an edge: just as the narrator is.
A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is a terrifyingly beautiful look into the formation of a young girl and all that can and will go wrong in her life. The dual simplicity and complexity of McBride’s language mirrors the themes and ideas of the novel that, though they are often blatant, are deeply profound and driven by an emotionality that the reader can’t help but be absorbed by.
A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing was published by Hogarth in June of 2015.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.