I have an obsession with novels that explore the relationship between siblings. In my opinion, it is one of the most interesting and most unexplored relationships as most authors focus on romantic relationships or the famous “Daddy-daughter issues”.
However, Eimear McBride threw herself right into the complexity of family bounds with her debut novel A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing.
The plot is fairly straightforward – it’s the inner narrative of a young girl who has a brother with a brain tumor and a complicated relationship with the rest of her family. The girl, who is never named in the novel due to the use of the “I”-voice, struggles with seeing her brother suffer from a brain tumor. He is slower than the other boys and gets teased quite a lot. She is torn between trying to help him and trying to help herself. This inner conflict leads her into some pretty unhealthy situations that she tries to use to lose herself.
The main thing that needs to be discussed about this book is the writing style, since it has been the most remarkable style I’ve ever read. There is no real way to describe it, so I think some excerpts (spoiler-free!) are the best way to show it.
For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say. Mammy me? Yes you. Bounce the bed, I’d say. I’d say that’s what you did. Then lay you down. They cut you round. Wait and hour and day.
_I met a man. I met a man. I let him throw me round the bed. And smoked, me, spliffs and chocked my neck until I said I was dead. _
It is not an easy writing style to read and it took me about fifty pages to get used to it, but once I was, the book became one of the most emotionally grabbing books I’ve ever read. There are certain scenes that portray very serious situations and by being inside the girl’s head, by really hearing her voice instead of a generic authorial voice, the scenes became even more emotional. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but halfway through the book, there was a moment I almost cried on the tube. (Can you imagine? The coldhearted, don’t show any emotion tube – the horror!)
However, every pro has its con and I felt like I missed out on a lot of the story by this narrative. There were too many questions unanswered for me – like what exactly was wrong with her brother? Who is her mother and what is her story? The one sided storytelling allowed for amazing connection with the girl, but I still have so many questions left.
However, the originality of the style and the plot twists (seriously, I know I can’t spoil it so just trust me on this one and read it) make up for it. And maybe leaving this unanswered was exactly the point of the story, because that is life. We only know our own story and we are left guessing about what other people feel and think. A reader walks away from this book with the normal sense of fulfillment, but an even stronger sense of loss. Loss for this girl. Loss for the family. And loss for the questions that will never be answered. And to create that, someone has to be a really talented writer.