Review: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride

A Girl is a Half Formed Thing Eimear McBride review

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride
First published by Galley Beggar Press, 2013
This edition, Faber & Faber, 2014

Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is a book completely unlike anything I’ve read recently. The book was challenging, but worth the struggle I had with it while reading.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is about a young girl’s relationship with her brother who has a brain tumour, and the abuse she suffers through her life. Yet the book is also so much more than that. The blurb describes the book as, ‘not so much a stream of consciousness as an unconscious railing against a life that makes little sense’. This is a perfect description of the book. The language is immersive, the prose a barrage of words which drag and pull you deep into the young girl’s mind. It’s impressionistic – short, sharp, fragments of sentences with minimal punctuation which leave readers to fill in the gaps from what is both said and not said. Some of the girl’s unconscious thoughts are incoherent, others lucid; some fully formed, others a trace before it is left incomplete. There are no names, instead people are referred to as ‘you’, ‘he’ or ‘she’. The girl of the title is never named either.

Throughout, I found myself painting a picture of what had happened, and to whom, getting to grips with the feel of the words and trying to make sense of them. The story is unrelenting, chaotic, panicked, and traumatic for the girl, and the prose creates this for the reader too – we are inside the girl’s head, not simply witnessing what happens, but almost experiencing everything as she does. When I first started reading, I wondered whether this experimental style would impede the story. But as I continued, I realised that it couldn’t have been told in any other way.

I found the style challenging and continually needed to strike a balance between concentrating on each word intently to find out what was happening, and just letting the words glide over me to leave me with a sense of what had gone on. In the end, I realised that I didn’t necessarily need to make sense of every single sentence; I think it’s the impression and feeling you get after reading them that matters.

Because I struggled with the style at first, it wasn’t until about a half to three quarters of the way through the book that I realised how much the story had a grip on me. I was genuinely affected by it, left feeling sad, horrified, uncomfortable, and drained after I’d finished reading.

While the writing style of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is challenging, the subject matter doesn’t make for comfortable reading either. It certainly wasn’t an easy read, but it was a rewarding one. I’m pleased that I read a book that was outside my comfort zone and one that I found challenging. Additionally, the fact that this book has been published at all, and has won a number of prizes, gives me hope. Hope that writers can continue to push the boundaries of the craft and what language can do, and that publishers will recognise that readers aren’t afraid to be adventurous in their reading and will choose books that challenge them.

Overall, I have a strange relationship with A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. It wasn’t a book I enjoyed reading – it was sometimes an effort to pick the book up and continue it – but I love what this book stands for in terms of it being an original, experimental novel. It’s a book written with remarkable skill. It’s an important book, a powerful book, and a book that, I hope, will forge the way for other authors and publications to come.

P.S I recently set up a Twitter account for this blog – if you have Twitter, please pop over and say hi!


21 thoughts on “Review: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride

  1. Such a great review! It encompasses everything I felt about the book exactly! I will head over to Twitter now, I just set up my twitter page for the blog about a month ago.

  2. Great review! I felt the same way, it was an astonishing book but I found it so harrowing that it was at times hard to read.

    I love the way it was written though and hope it inspires publishers to take some more risks.

  3. I’ve swithered over this one, but just can’t get past the various quotes I’ve seen. Well done for getting through it and I’m glad you felt it was worthwhile – and thanks for such a considered review. I shall head on over to Twitter now…

    • Thank you. Initially I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it either, but I’m glad that I decided to in the end. That’s great, I’ll see you over on Twitter!

  4. I really like your review and the way you’ve expressed your response to this book, Gemma. I bought ‘Girl’ back in January, and I know I should read it, but part of me wants to and another part of me doesn’t. I need to bite the bullet and read it this year, perhaps in the autumn, and your review gives me encouragement.

    • Thank you 🙂 I’m glad I’ve given you encouragement, hopefully you’ll find reading the book worthwhile. I’d be interested to hear what you think of it once you have read it!

  5. Great review, I had decided I wasn’t going to read it from other reviews I have seen because it just sounded like to much hard work but you make it sound like it is worth it! I don’t think I’m going to be in a rush to read it but it will go on my mental TBR list now for sure.

  6. I haven’t actually heard of this book before but I am glad you have exposed me to it as I’m also keen to read different writing styles. Whilst it certainly sounds like a book that needs some effort getting through, it is worth it in the end. Making note of this one. Thanks for sharing!

    • I definitely didn’t find it the easiest book to read, but it was worth it! Glad you’ve made a note of it – I’d love to know you’re thoughts if you do read it 🙂

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  8. Glad you had so much to say about this one! I feel like one of the best things about reading is that you play an active part in interpreting the story and bringing it to life inside your own head. When you write about painting a picture of what happened, that, for me, exemplifies your part in analyzing the minimalistic style and the voice of the narrator. Not sure if I’ll add this one to my to-read list, but I enjoyed reading your review as always.

    • Thank you, Thomas! Reading this book definitely felt like a more active experience than with other books I’ve read recently which I enjoyed even though it was challenging. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

    • Thank you 🙂 No I don’t think I could reread it either, certainly not any time soon. Although, if I do reread it, I’d be interested in seeing if I perceive it differently – because it’s so impressionistic, I’m sure I missed some things this time around! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

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