Tuesday, May 13, 2014

book review: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

The backstory: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, Eimear McBride's debut novel, is shortlisted for the 2014 Baileys Prize for Women's Fiction.

The basics: "Eimear McBride's acclaimed debut tells the story of a young woman's relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumor, touching on everything from family violence to sexuality and the personal struggle to remain intact in times of intense trauma."--from the publisher

My thoughts: When I sat down to start A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, I was curious and excited. I knew it was receiving praise from some very big names and that it was experimental in nature. I eager to become part of the Eimear McBride club. After ten pages, I realized I had zero idea of what I had read beyond words. I started over.

Finishing A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is something of an accomplishment for me. It was incredibly challenging to read and required a high level of concentration. It was not a book I could lose myself in for hours. It was a book I had to read in short bursts that left me tired from slow reading and fast thinking. The experience is almost like reading in a foreign language--I spent as much time reading as I did trying to make sense of the strings of words that were only sometimes sentences. It's a different kind of concentration, and I often wondered if the effort would be worth it.

There were times I felt like a bad-ass reading this novel. "I am so smart and worldly!" I thought to myself when I found myself following the narrative more easily. Sadly, these moments were quickly followed by realizations I had once again lost the narrative threads and needed to re-trace my steps.

The verdict: I rate books based on a combination of quality, appreciation and enjoyment. A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is among the most difficult books to rate I've ever read. It is an accomplished novel, and I appreciate the experimental nature of McBride's work, but it isn't a novel I enjoyed reading. It's certainly award-worthy, but it's also a novel I would recommend to only the most adventurous and dedicated readers. Finishing it felt like the literary equivalent of running a marathon, and I was mostly glad to be done just so I could say I was--and move onto a novel I enjoyed more, even if it's not as accomplished or inventive.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 204 pages
Publication date: September 9, 2014 (it's out in the UK now)
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Pre-order A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing from an independent bookstore, order it the Book Depository or pre-order it from Amazon (no Kindle edition yet.)

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  1. I totally know what you mean, and I'm so unsure if that means I'd enjoy this book or not. Sometimes it's worth it, sometimes not. Given my mushbrain, it won't be something I pick up now!

  2. It's really hard to read books like this, but the book itself is so short but when you keep having to go back to reread parts, a 200 page book turns into a chunkster. It sounds WAY heavy though.

  3. Hmm...I've still got mixed feelings about starting this one. I have it out from the library at the moment, I might give myself permission to not finish it if I don't like it.

  4. I'm not going to bother picking this one up. I like working hard when I read a novel but this sounds ridiculously challenging. Wonderful post.


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