A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

Kettlemag, Emma Jones, Books, Eimar McBride
Written by emmalj

The title A Girl is a Half-formed Thing seems to perfectly sum up Eimear McBride’s debut novel. Through the female protagonist’s chaotic, often unsettling, yet always poignant narration, we realise she sees herself not as an independent individual, but as someone shaped by her relationships with those closest to her; the turbulent family dynamic provoked by her brother’s terminal illness, and her troubling sexual relations, that begin with an encounter with her own uncle.

More than a typical coming-of-age novel

Although the novel is an exploration of a character from childhood to puberty, McBride has created much more than a typical coming-of-age novel. Her prose plunges the reader straight into the narrator’s mind, sparing no details, even when she must confront the most difficult issues in her life, epitomised by her need to accept the news that her brother’s illness is terminal.

Books about illness, particularly in the young adult genre, are becoming increasingly prevalent in contemporary literature (just look at John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars), coining the term ‘sick lit’. But what makes ‘A Girl is a Half-formed Thing’ different from the rest is something that will either make or break the novel for the reader- McBride’s unusual prose style.

Logic and coherency are abandoned

The sentences are short, abrupt and jolting, and syntax, logic and coherency are abandoned in favour of creating a ‘stream of consciousness’-type narration. This makes for an extremely challenging read. The first line of the book, which reads ‘For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say’ feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar, far from a gripping opening. What can be frustrating is that this fractured style is relentless and offers no relief. I’m sure there are many readers who have been put off by this, and understandably so. Yet, if you can persevere with A Girl is a Half-formed thing, you can see how this narration is effective. It allows the narrator’s thoughts to become live on the page and open themselves to the reader’s interpretation, creating a certain closeness between reader and narrator which is to be valued when the content is so intimate.

Critically acclaimed

Nevertheless, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing won’t be for everyone, and it’s certainly not a light-hearted read- perhaps not one for sipping cocktails on the beach. McBride’s unapologetic language can be enough to make you wince, and the hard-hitting subject matter doesn’t exactly make for escapism. But if you’re looking for something moving, stirring, challenging, and most of all, something different, this might well be the right choice. Critics certainly seem to think so. A Girl is Half-formed Thing has won four awards (The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, The Goldsmiths Prize for Fiction and the Desmond Elliott Prize) and has been shortlisted for several others- no mean feat for a debut novel!

Just make sure you can give it the time and attention it needs- it’s not one to go into half-heartedly.