Beautifully Written, Painfully Tragic
A Book Review of “A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” by Eimear McBride
Everyone will agree that terminal illness and the care of loved ones under its duress, is a terrible, helpless time. Yet, how to convey the emotional pain and never before contemplated situations of care giving within the literature realm? What do you do when your brother can’t go to the bathroom on his own anymore? How do you respond when a loved one abuses you simply because you are family? The task is ambitious to say the least. Yet, using the unpredictable and slippery style of stream of consciousness writing and a decade of dedication in seeing the work into published status, Eimear McBride has captured elements of truth and a demand that you will feel something upon completion of reading “A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing.”
To me, it’s no surprise that McBride searched so long to find a publisher for this work. The method of writing takes patience to read, and coupled with a painful subject matter, the work is an endurance test. Half-way through “A Girl” I felt that I was warming to the book, and the reading was actually easier now that I had found the flow. (Note: A feeling I never quite got in reading Joyce or Woolf, struggling to the end against their puzzle of words.) Yet, towards the latter half of “A Girl” I lost a lot of my steam, feeling punished by the further butchering of sentences, and the unending stream of unhappiness and hopelessness that the small cast of characters was enduring.
“A Girl” is a hard book. Hard on the reader, hard on the characters, hard all around. Yet, it’s like watching a slow-motion train wreck. I felt compelled to follow along to the end with our main character (only ever identified as a less than perfect younger sister) in her interactions of love, resentment, and anguish for her older brother who had a terminal brain tumor in remission for an unknown span of time and their conservative Christian mentally/physically abusive mother.
“A Girl” has won so very many awards, and is rightly lauded. In college classrooms, this could be a useful paring with other stream of consciousness novels as a more accessible example of the form. As a book club selection, this would be a wonderful one to discuss in a group setting. For my part, I reason I read is to escape to more hopeful and fantastic places and neither is to be found here. The ending is what mainly influenced my review to give this work three stars. I’m not so soppy an American to demand a happy ending for each and every novel out there, but the end felt much like a cop-out and loose ends just left to hang.
I received this book free of charge from Blogging For Books.
Here’s a list of the awards “A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” has received:
Winner of 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction
Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize
Winner of the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award
Winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize
Winner of 2013 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize
Shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize
Shortlisted for the Folio Prize
Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal’s Best Books of 2014
One of Time Out New York’s Ten Best Books of 2014
Selected as one of NPR‘s 2014 Great Reads
A New York Magazine Best Book of 2014
A Boston Globe Best Book of 2014
Chicago Tribune Printers Row Journal Best Books of 2014
Star Tribune Best Fiction of 2014
Electric Literature 25 Best Novels of 2014
Largehearted Boy Favorite Novels of 2014
The New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books of 2014
Vanity Fair 11 Best Books of 2014