A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride (narrated by the author)

I’ve never read anything like this book. Starting this novel is like diving into unexpectedly cold water – it snaps you wide awake:

For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say. Mammy me? Yes you. Bounce the bed, I’d say. I’d say that’s what you did. Then lay you down. They cut you round. Wait and hour and day.

The language first struck me like a slippery fish & left me wondering whether I could hold on to it or whether it would slip from my grasp. It didn’t. I quickly got used to the flow & it became as smooth as silk & utterly enchanting.

Our nameless heroine grows up in the shadow of her older brother & his brain tumour. Her brother, the “you” in the story, has suffered some brain damage from the tumour or from the surgical attempt to remove the tumour. Her staunchly Catholic mother holds high hope in the power of prayer to allow the brother to succeed and to live a full life, in spite of evidence that this is unlikely. Against this background our heroine suffers sexual abuse & develops a painful-to-witness desire for debasement.

It is a coming of age story, but not in the way you’d imagine. Very little of this book is what you’d imagine.

The format is “stream of consciousness”, but like any internal monologue it is interrupted, cut off, fragmented. She is faithful, however, in her reporting of other’s conversations. As readers we are in her head, which is an intimate & often extremely uncomfortable place to be.

The closest I can come in comparing this author is the experimental style of James Joyce in Ulysses, or Dylan Thomas in Under Milk Wood. I can pretty confidently call it postmodern, and there ends any comparison to other books/authors I’ve read.

In case you haven’t already guessed, this book had me hooked from the get go. It was one of those rare “put down only when I have to go to sleep, but I’d much rather keep reading” kind of books. I read the audio version which is narrated by the author & I suspect there is something special about having this book read to you. It’s also my new favourite book. I highly recommend the audiobook but I imagine reading the printed text would be pretty amazing.

Having the author narrate this story makes the audiobook a step above. McBride puts the full rhythm into the story she’s written. Her timing is superb, and the lilt of her beautiful Irish accent lends authenticity to the character. I don’t think anyone but the author could have narrated this book. There’s just too much in it that can’t be overlooked. While not all authors make for good narrators McBride is excellent, nay, perfect.

Since my first read I’ve gone through & read the book twice more. The more I read it, the more I love it. The rhythm (& even rhyme) of the writing makes it more like poetry than a traditional novel. This really is one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read.

A Girl is a Half Formed Thing (unabridged audiobook) • by Eimear McBride • narrated by Eimear McBride • 7 hours 34 mins • published by Random House Audio • 2013 • ISBN 9781101922705

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