Hey there! It’s another Writing Wednesday.
I’ve been adjusting to a new job and writing through some challenges, which has kept me away from the bloggerwebz. But I have returned this week after finally reading the 2014 winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride.
If you haven’t read this book, just a heads up — it’s not your typical novel. While the story may be somewhat familiar — a girl facing harrowing challenges and familial drama as she comes of age (this is me putting it into the broadest possible terms) — the way it’s written will likely take the reader of traditional fiction a few pages to get used to.
Jesus that. Stink of that. City when I got off the train. Get a lungful of that in you and see how you do, she says cigarette filter fraying brown on her tongue. Thoo pthoo. Looking knackered, alright? Not too bad. Come on with me, Thanks for. It’s a good month is it since I seen you last. Is there loads to tell me? Ah there is oh loads. And aren’t you mighty I say. Coming all this way. In. Not much missus. You are. Well fuck and I am. Now I’d say, a good laugh’s what we need.
This is a story written with poetic sensibility. It focuses on the rhythm of words together, often forgoing full sentences in favor of percussive fragments. As you can see in the excerpt, words are left out, but the words that remain are always enough to allow your brain to fill in the rest, especially after you’ve been reading the book for a while and completely settle into how it’s written. One of the things I like most about this novel is that the sentence fragments are also sensory fragments: snatches of what the protagonist sees/hears/feels/smells/tastes/remembers all strung together. I don’t know about you guys, but that’s exactly how I remember things. Like someone taking a bag full of jigsaw puzzle pieces and dumping them out on a table — some pieces will be upturned (which is what you remember), some won’t. And McBride doesn’t just point out what the protagonist is experiencing, she allows the reader to enjoy the same sensory experiences. One example of this is in the writing out of sounds (“Thoo pthoo.”), which you both hear in your head and feel the shape of in your mouth as you’re reading.
There are full sentences in the dialogue (“Is there loads to tell me?”), but the dialogue isn’t set apart from the rest of the narrative. Dialogue and description are presented equally. No quotation marks, little to no punctuation. Sometimes a “sentence” will be made up of two phrases smushed together with no punctuation (“Ah there is oh loads.”) or odd punctuation. But once you fall into this story, it becomes easy to distinguish between characters and keep up with who’s saying what. You’ll also find one-word sentences/fragments in this story that either follow from the previous phrase or carry you into the next one (“Coming all this way. In.”). Encountering those one-word bits reminded me of moments when my brain thought it had formed a complete thought/sentence and then had to shove another word onto the end to actually complete the thought (which happens fairly often 😀 ).
Not only is the novel technically interesting, the story itself is compelling and emotionally intense. I felt so much anger toward so many characters reading this book, hahaha. The mother is one of the most infuriating characters I have ever come across. Then again, the shittyness of some of the people in this story definitely makes it easier to feel sympathy for the protagonist (though there were plenty of times when I got pissed at her for not slapping the teeth out of someone’s mouth b/c they deserved it). She has tense/precarious relationships with every single person in her life. This is not an exaggeration. BUT! McBride doesn’t try to sell you a “woe is me” narrative or push your buttons in a cheap way. People make terrible choices as a matter of course in this book, but you get to understand them well enough that these choices never feel out of character. Don’t get me wrong — I definitely wished HARD with the turn of every page (especially towards the end) that people would get their friggin’ acts together — mostly for the sake of the protagonist — but at the same time, I was never surprised (for better or worse) by a character’s actions because those actions coincided perfectly with who each character had shown themselves to be.
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t said much about the plot. That was on purpose. Read this book — the story is worth discovering on your own. I think, as with any story, if you come to it fresh, it’ll make a greater impact on you.
Long pitch short: give A Girl is a Half-formed Thing a read if/when you’re in the mood to challenge yourself mentally and emotionally (and when you’re in the mood to break shit over how much you hate some of the people in this book. OK maybe that was just me. But probably not.) Thank you for all those feels, Eimear McBride.
Happy Wednesday, everybody!