Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

A sensitive girl loves her disabled brother

A girl, brought up fatherless in an overanxious religious Irish home, reaches maturity, alternately dismayed and protective of her brain-damaged older brother. As a thirteen year old girl, she loses her virginity to an uncle by marriage. Eventually the bright girl leaves home to attend college in England. On a trip back to Ireland, she re-encounters the uncle. Their sexual attraction ignites and he secretly starts to visit her in London. Meanwhile, the girl tries to numb her pain through excessive drinking and masochistic sex in the bushes with random local lads. Once the brother’s brain cancer re-appears, the girl must decide what she is going to do.

This was a unique book – a big part of the experience was the stream-of-consciousness prose style, headlong and rushed, a unique language driven experience. The novel adapted the structure of Portrait of the Artist as well as the The Sound and the Fury, that is, a plotted story told, at first, through the voice of a child. The unusual prose, stuffed with cursing and prayers, did not bother me – I felt I understood what was going on; especially what was going on with her emotionally. However, I wouldn’t call this a beach read. The book was also a social window into an Ireland growing richer, up from the sheep farm and the fifteen kids, towards with the college educated and the fancy cars.

The novel rests on the older brother’s disability.  Nobody in the family talks about it; the schoolchildren cruelly taunt him.  His fate he cannot escape, while she wastes no time getting out of town. What makes this book work is the love between the sister and the brother; otherwise, the story would collapse into a steaming pile of victimization. At times, it was a chore to read the girl’s humorless take on life and the book ends with a monumental masochistic, perhaps not motivated, Liebestod.

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