Review: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

39689872._sx318_Verdict: Gutting, viscerally upsetting, stunningly written.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction

Published by Faber & Faber, 2014

Find it on Goodreads.

Eimear McBride’s debut tells, with astonishing insight and in brutal detail, the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. Not so much a stream of consciousness, as an unconscious railing against a life that makes little sense, and a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist. To read A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head, experiencing her world first-hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation.

Touching on everything from family violence to sexuality and the personal struggle to remain intact in times of intense trauma, McBride writes with singular intensity, acute sensitivity and mordant wit. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is moving, funny – and alarming. It is a book you will never forget.

I don’t know what to say about this book. We have been buddy reading this with my Women’s Prize group (Rachel (5 stars), Callum (4 stars), Naty (currently reading), Emily (5 stars), and Sarah (in a reading slump)) and I have been periodically telling them that the book is killing me. And killing me it did. I do not know that I have ever read a book that I found this viscerally upsetting. It’s brilliant, mind, but so raw and so upsetting that I am glad to be done with it – while simultaneously wanting to read eveything Eimear McBride has ever written.

Told in fragmented sentences that are not so much stream-of-consciousness (although they are this too) but rather a stumbling, breathless kind of impressionistic language, the prose is the first and obvious draw here. It took me about three chapters of my audiobook to find my bearing (I listened to each of those first three chapters at least twice, frequently skipping back to relisten) but once I did, I found it mesmerizing. The rhythm to the language is stunning and McBride’s audio narration was just brilliant. I am a huge fan of books told in second person singular – and this rambling, raw narrative, addressed to the unnamed narrator’s older brother hit very many sweet spots for me.

This is a story about grief and trauma and I could not ever listen to more than half an hour before needing a break. The main character is traumatized: first by her brother’s brain tumor and her parent’s abuse, then again when, at 13, her uncle brutally rapes her. After this, she never finds her bearing again, getting lost in toxic behaviour and self-harm spirals. I found this book endlessly bleak – so much that by the end I could only listen to minutes before becoming overwhelmed. I also wish the people in the narrator’s life weren’t all this horrible – the horribleness of the uncle nearly eclipsed what an awful person her mother was as well. I thought the prose worked best in moments of immediate trauma but there were moments when I found it more vague than impactful. Still, what a brilliant, brilliant book.

Content warning: sexual assault, rape, pedophilia, cancer, familial death, religious bigotry, self-harm, alcoholism, abuse.



15 thoughts on “Review: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

    1. I did! I am still reeling from it but it was also so very brilliant. A very good start indeed! (So many of the other winning books do NOT sound like my type of book at all, so I am glad to have started on a high)

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Fab review! I’m still on the fence about reading this because of the content warnings. It seems like it might be a little too dark for me

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is SUPER dark. These triggers aren’t even my particular triggers and I found it harrowing. Some of these scenes were painful and it is relentless in its darkness.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You survived! Maybe! Excellent review. If I have one complaint about this book it is probably that her mother’s abuse isn’t examined as much as it should be, so I totally agree with you there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Barely. I am still reeling from this book. The mother is SO horrible as well – and there were moments where I lost track of that because the uncle is so monstrous.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review! I’m glad you made it through! This is definitely a difficult book any way you look at it, but so, so effective. It put me into a bit of a stupor upon finishing, but also left me immensely curious about McBride’s other works!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am still reeling. That book killed me. I mean, I see how it’s brilliant but ugh it’s also so harrowing. I want to read everything she ever writes, so I guess it was a successful reading experience for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I am super curious about how this is on audio! Not sure if it makes it easier or harder to read, but I can imagine it probably feels very raw. And so very different from other books we’ve seen on the Women’s Prize lately… Great review, Hannah!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was so raw! I took so many breaks I think my boyfriend started to wonder why I was doing this to myself. I am a bit worried we picked the book out of all the winners that I will like the most and the rest will be disappointing. But I always enjoy buddy reading with you all!


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