A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

girl-half-formedIt has taken me an astonishingly long time to finish this relatively slim volume (228 pages) by Eimear McBride. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is not an easy book to read. Described as ‘Joycean’, the language takes a while to get into to. And in terms of subject matter, well, there is nothing easy about the topics dealt with – illness, death, abuse, sexual awakening. All of this meant A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing was not the type of book I could just pick up for a few pages while waiting for the pasta water to boil, or helping my daughter with her homework.

So what I’m getting at is A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is a difficult book. I found the style challenging at first, but it grew on me. I found the main character’s sexual awakening horrifying, abusive and suffused with misogyny and self-hatred. So ultimately it was the subject matters described in the book that turned me off more than the language. There is not a happy moment in the whole book. It is troubling and depressing.

But the language! It can not be described as beautiful, but there was a certain cadence to it. It was halting and confusing. It was by far the most difficult thing I’ve read in a long time and though I appreciated the challenge, I think it would have been more rewarding if I had enjoyed the story more.

Who would like this book? You want a literary challenge? Then this book is for you. It is described as Joycean for a reason. It has been described as stream of consciousness writing, which it certainly is, but the punctuation and the abruptness of it was what I found more difficult. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing has won a slew of literary prizes, including the Bailey Prize, so for those who follow the prizes it is clearly a book to know about, if not read. Good luck to if you do tackle it. I’d love to know what you thought.

Simon and Schuster Canada provided me with a copy of the book for review consideration.

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15 Comments

  1. It sounds like it could have been promising but I can’t do Joyce. I hated Portrait both times I had to read it and finally gave up on Ulysses after the supposed point where it gets easier (think I made it to Book 5?). I can understand being glad to have read a book that you might not have completely enjoyed, though…

  2. Oh no! She’s going to be in Seattle and I said I’d read it for a local book store but my God, I’ve had my feel of emotional horror recently with Love Me Back. Linguistically it was not a problem but your description of this novel sounds exactly the same- tough and depressing.

    Once again, thank you for cutting to the heart of the reading- I always appreciate it. And I will check in after I read it.

  3. Yeah, I can’t read those “stream of consciousness” styles and while I’m not too opposed to reading those with difficult subject matter, I have stayed away from this one and now, yeah, I’ll continue to steer clear. It sounds like something important to read, but I’ve seen enough now to go ahead and reach for something else. 😉

  4. Kirt and I were chatting in one of the podcasts about our truly literary reading brains had gone downhill since university and that, without practice, reading these types of books gets harder and takes longer. It’s a skill. -Tania

  5. Joyce is so intimidating, but his books are not very short either. Maybe this is a good place to start with that type of writing. I read Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil this summer and that was also not a book you went through quickly, even though it was less than 200 pages.

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