Review: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing: A voice like no other, by Caitríona Marron

InterviewsThis week, we’re taking a well-deserved break away from creative pieces (although we love getting your submissions) and returning to another aspect of the Words, Pauses, Noises blog; the book review. Sam Jordison from Galley Beggar Press began his classes at Kingston University back in May and has inspired the choice for this week’s post, having published it with much critical acclaim. In our class with Sam, he discussed the voice, story, themes and motifs, which Caitríona Marron attempts to emulate in this review of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride. 

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is terrifying to look at, at first. Prose and dialogue are spun into chaotic, interrupted lines, the distorted point of view not retaining much clarity as the story continues. It eggs the average, commercial reader to take one look and snap the book shut. But this is what sets it apart from its contemporaries (scoring the Bailey’s Women’s prize for fiction). The beauty of this piece lies in the frantic and seemingly un-filtered reels of free consciousness that drive the reader to peel through each page, faithfully stumbling across each word at first. A disclaimer should promise the reader to hold tight until eyes become used to the pandemonium on the page after a chapter or so.

McBride’s style tears off into a dazzling first-hand account of a teenage girl struggling with family relationships, the Catholic Church and her burgeoning sexuality that conflict violently with these repressive surroundings. It’s not stated where and exactly when the book is set. Funnily enough, the reader doesn’t catch the girl’s name either which adds to the obscurity and ties in uncomfortably to the title. Yet, you couldn’t get any deeper into her head if you tried. McBride touches the farthest nerve in human consciousness, like planting a video-camera in the protagonist’s head and strapping the reader in as she thrashes through life, spitting out half-mangled streams of thought, abrasive sensory images and jagged-to-the-touch moments of violence.

One can argue the story-line falls into a common Irish narrative; the strict, condescending mother, the lecherous uncle and back-arse of nowhere country setting. It also features the God-fearing grandfather that pops in every now and then to pour spite and judgement on his daughter, the protagonist’s mother, happily continuing the cycle of self-loathing you see frequently in Irish literature. Still, McBride strives further with the addition of the brother, suffering with a long-standing brain tumour. This relationship with her sibling adds the possessiveness an older sister has over a younger kin, exposing that unique feeling of undiluted hatred and love everybody has felt for their brother or sister at one time or another. It feels uncomfortably vulnerable to read at times, like something too intimate for public consumption.

These uncomfortable moments continue more and more for the girl, heightened by McBride’s diligent use of onomatopoeia, sluicing out of the book until it feels the pages will stick together from all the mucus, blood, snot and bodily fluids that’s secreted from the prose. The recurring images of water allows the girl moments of respite. An archetypal theme for birth, water is the most primal archetype of all, and it fits into the primitive state of mind we’re kept in, from start to finish. Jung symbolizes it as the unconscious which this book seems free from, this being apt when she leaves us at the lake; at the end of her conscious and the beginning of the unknown; her possible rebirth.

As you can tell, we thoroughly enjoyed this book. Applause and credit is well earned, for the voice is like nothing you’ve ever heard before. If you’ve enjoyed this review, feel free to contact us with suggestions for future picks. Or if you’re feeling brave, send in your book reviews to Happy Sunday!

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