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A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing
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A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing

3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  1,279 ratings  ·  344 reviews
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 s...more
Paperback, 205 pages
Published June 27th 2013 by Galley Beggar Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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Let’s get this out the way first: this is the most interesting, impressive and accomplished new novel I’ve read in a very long time. It is not for everyone, and it’s often a difficult read, but it’s one which I found affecting, disturbing and thought-provoking in equal measures.

The core of the book is a first person interior monologue written (or spoken) by an unnamed girl growing up in a small town in Ireland. We follow her in a broad narrative arc which runs from her birth through childhood t...more
It was an epiphanic reading of Ulysses on a train ride that changed Eimear McBride’s approach to writing. What must it have been like to be in her own mind for those six intense months of writing this? Ten years it took to find a publisher. I think most publishers’ minions likely couldn’t imagine stacking this in the mid-aisle tables of Walmart/Tesco and just tossed it in the WTF pile.
“I’m having bile thoughts. Great green ones of spite and their sloppedy daughters with tongues too long to keep...more
This is an experimental novel that uses ungrammatical stream-of-consciousness sentences to describe an Irish girl’s coming of age in an undetermined time frame (1980’s maybe?). Her older brother’s travails with brain cancer is a central theme, but the story really revolves around the narrator whether she wants to admit it or not.

The opening paragraph is rather daunting for the unprepared:

For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say. Mammy me? Yes y...more
Oh my emotions. My mixed emotions. My emotions mixed with dread. My dread that she wouldn't stop. Her not stopping. Stopping me from wanting to stop. And who was I when I read this book?

"The starting point was the quote from James Joyce: ‘One great part of human existence is passed in a state which cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot.’ "
Eimear McBride.

In wishing to extend the possibilities of language - the extra meaning that can be g...more
Rebecca O'regan
Absolutely awful book, average storyline but irritating and totally pointless writing style. I didn't finish it, got to page 130, just couldn't waste any more of my precious free time reading it. Pity as it had rave reviews, I'm still asking why, a promotional ploy perhaps?!
A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is a brutal, beautiful piece of writing. It is the smartest book I've read in some time. It is intelligent. It is challenging. And it is wonderful.

I would most like to write here about my personal experiences of reading this book. I really can’t critique this book in any other way. There was nothing academic about me when I read it. It was rough and I was raw.

This book spoke to me about shame and blame and the degradation of the self. It also spoke to me a lot abou...more
Ron Charles
Americans finally have a chance to see what all the fuss is about over Eimear McBride’s “A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing.” Its success has the makings of a minor literary legend. The Irish writer’s debut novel languished for nine years without a publisher until it was finally released last year by a tiny new press in Norwich, England: Gallery Beggar, “a company specifically set-up to act as a sponsor to writers who have struggled to either find or retain a publisher.” Soaring from that humble begi...more
At a certain point, this book became more about trying to PUNISH me for reading it than anything else, and I really did not care for that. Harrowing is not my cup of tea at the best of times, but when something is so obviously designed to be as excruciating as humanly possible, I just get cranky and taken out of the book. I guess it worked though? The death scene was one of the most horrific things I have ever voluntarily subjected myself to. Plus, all the rape. Rape, sadness, pain, cruelty, mor...more
Emma Flaim
I want to give it 6 stars. It's just better than anything I've ever read, with the exception of Beloved by Toni Morrison. The prose is beautiful and perfect. It takes you relentlessly into the mind of the character - which is so hard - my chest hurt the whole time I was reading it - an incredible book, to have succeeded brilliantly in articulating what is kept silent.
Genius. Harrowing. McBride breaks language apart and glues it back together again in wondrous ways. Not for lazy readers. If a man wrote this he would be lauded and famous by now and it would not have taken seven years or more to find a publisher...
Jon Doyle
A strange book that is nearly impossible to rate. At times this a five star masterpiece, at others (especially the beginning) I felt like throwing the book at the wall in frustration.

The opening pages of the page feel like a riddle. The sentences are fragmented and abstract, and you are left with images rather than a complete narrative. This leads to the sensation of missing something, and hence a feeling that you aren't working hard enough (or aren't intelligent enough) to understand the style...more
Friederike Knabe
I won this book as a First Reads ARC, courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada. Thank you.

What strikes you most when you read into the first pages of Eimear McBride's debut novel, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing , is her language and style. Staccato half-sentences, or just a couple of words like "I", "me", "It's a." "For you. You'll soon. You'll give her name."… followed by a full stop. In other paragraphs alliterations and repeats give the language an unusual yet poetic rhythm… It will take you a...more
It's a brave author who chooses to ignore the normal conventions of written English. The novel is written in fractured phrases - it's rare to get anything like a fully-formed sentence. This is effective to imply fleeting glimpses and impressions, thoughts and feelings, but over the length of a book gets extremely wearing. Used more sparingly with more a pedestrian narrative to move the plot along I might have engaged & empathised with both the book and the character more.

At the beginning the...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I don't always appreciate gimmick-I-mean-experimental novels. In cases like this where the author commits to a specific style and voice all the way through, it can either become something you settle into, like with A Clockwork Orange or something you throw against the wall, like with Umbrella. Okay, those are my personal experiences. I had to start this one over because I had previously read 20 pages and not absorbed or understood anything.

This is 200 pages not any different from these two excer...more

I made it to page 36 or 37, then I had to put it down. I don't care what the author was trying to accomplish, the writing style is inane and moronic. I believe we all think in fully-formed sentences, so this stream of consciousness made no sense, it didn't feel real, and constantly made me hope something horrible would happen to the author. Yes, I know, but it was the most annoying book I've ever read, so much so that I'm not gonna waste my damn time reading it. Nothing memorable about it, no...more
Thought this was awful - the writing style was a type of 'stream of consciousness' but with far too many full stops at totally inappropriate times, breaking the sentences up so as to make them almost incomprehensible; whereas any conversations between characters were just printed one after the other so you couldn't tell who was saying what to whom. None of the characters had any redeeming features either and the story was unnecessarily vicious and nasty in places. Found this to be self-indulgent...more
Sarah SE
Although this book reminded me equally of Berger's Maidenhead (a brutally honest depiction of a young woman's sexuality) and Joyce's Ulysses (Irish author/characters/setting, stream of consciousness writing style), McBride truly has created a story that is uniquely her own. This is a hard read, and to be honest I'm not really sure that I enjoyed it (in that I didn't have 'fun' reading it), but I was compelled from page, well, 30, to keep reading. It took me a while to wrap my head around its tec...more
nomadreader (Carrie D-L)
(originally published at

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...more
Wrecked. That is how A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing left me feeling: just wrecked. The synopsis from the publisher’s website is spot on.

This isn’t an easy book to read, psychologically, emotionally, or physically. It’s an experimental novel. McBride has cut thoughts and sentences down to their bare minimum, leaving just what the reader needs in order to feel and understand the mind of the narrator. The characters are never named. Everything that happens is described by the narrator’s conscious–an...more
Knowing in advance that the structure of this novel was experimental and very stream-of-consciousness, I took the same approach I did with Will Self's Umbrella, which was to dive into said stream and immerse myself in it. Thankfully it was a short novel.

I wasn't that convinced that this was a love story about a sister and brother - or even that the girl was capable of love. She seemed incapable of emotion - her life from early teenage experienced as a series of what Erica Jong termed "zipless f...more
Emma Flanagan
I really debated what rating to give this book. I didn't really enjoy it, yet it's impossible not to see why it's winning every award. It is expertly written, and without a doubt one of the best debut novels I have ever come across. It is for this reason I gave it three stars. If I had enjoyed it I would have given it 5.

The story follows a girl (unnamed) from the time of her birth over an approximately 20 yr period, growing up in rural Ireland in an extremely dysfunctional family, absent father...more
Jane Davis
If you are still falling into the should I/shouldn't I? camp, the answer is yes, you should.

I understand the reasons for the comparisons with Joyce and the like, but the truth is that I don't have the stomach for Joyce. This is a challenging read - it certainly isn't a passive one - but neither will it have you reaching for the dictionary. I suspect that if you haven't had a Catholic upbringing, a few of the references to prayers and psalms will pass you by, broken up as they are between other s...more
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing reads like Eimear McBride wrote the whole thing as a stream of consciousness, hung it on the wall and then fired full stops at it from a sawn-off shotgun. The whole thing is riddled with randomly-placed periods that defy the reader's attempt to engage in the story. Frequently there are three or more periods in what would scan as a normal sentence, ripping your attention back into the mechanics of reading rather than enjoying the novel. Some people can get past this...more
Janey Street
What an amazing book this is - rhythmic, cutting, and totally in a league of its own. I can't remember a book I have enjoyed reading more in the last year. The tragedies of a girl's life, from her experiences as a child and finally as a young adult, are laid bare to the reader in short and snappy thought-like prose.

I cried when reading this book, which has only ever happened to me once before. The level of tragedy affecting McBride's protagonist is really brought home by the chaotic manner of he...more
I just get so tired of these fundamentalist childhood, rebellious youth narratives. I wanted her to step outside the circle...but knew she never would. The book just goes around and around. And around.

The trauma of physical and sexual abuse is all too real but—by the same to token—all too easily internalized, too easily projected onto others. And so, this is ultimately a very black and white book about moralism vs. hedonism, rather than a book about the toxic family narcissism that splits self a...more
Jane Dolman
Hated this book....normally never give up but this was the exception could not bring myself to finish it. Nothing remarkable about the story and the experimental writing style was excruciating! Can not understand the rave reviews and feel a little like the small boy in the Emperors New Clothes!!!! There are so many other books out there that are so well written with full extraordinary stories sorry I was taken in by all the hype.
Winner of this year’s Bailey’s Women’s prize for fiction Eimear McBride’s famously experimental novel is a little outside of my comfort zone. Overall I have to admit I didn’t really enjoy it (although there were occasional moments when I thought I was beginning to) –therefore I could only rate it as three stars. That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate the accomplishment, it is a hugely accomplished work, and I am not surprised it has received the praise that it has. I am also not at all surprised t...more
Barry Pierce
What a happy novel! O_O

This novel is Joycean in its prose and sad/tragic/melancholy/pessimistic/nihilistic/lachrymose in its plot. However, the one thing that everybody's talking about with this novel is how it's written. The only novel I can possibly compare this to is Finnegan's Wake. At first the prose is an enigma and that may put some people off immediately but eventually you get used to the frenetic, stream of conciousness style. I'd like to say that the prose is a revelation in modern wr...more
Mar 06, 2014 Sylvia marked it as abandoned
quitting isn't a verdict on this book. it's only that some people will be drawn to this kind of writing and i am just not one of them. emma donoghue's "room" is the one exception i can think of off the top of my head where this kind of experimental and not entirely coherent stream-of-consciousness narrative with no punctuation to speak of aside from full stops actually worked for me - but i have no interest in beckett, i find joyce utterly inaccessible, and this feels like a modern update to bot...more
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is about a young woman's relationship with her older brother, who suffers a brain tumour in childhood that later returns when he is a young man. The story spans roughly 20 years and is set largely in an isolated farming community in the west of Ireland at a time when the Catholic Church dominated every facet of a person's life.

The first thing that strikes you about the novel is the prose style, which ignores all the usual conventions about use of the English languag...more
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Eimear McBride was born in Liverpool in 1976 to Irish parents. The family moved back to Ireland when she was three. She spent her childhood in Sligo and Mayo. Then, at the age of 17, she moved to London.
More about Eimear McBride...
Wedlock (Galley Beggar Singles)

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“Do you hear me? Is it ever time for you to understand. I meant I meant that for I never thought you could think you were low. Were lost at the moment when they cut you off. Cut your head out heart brain. It is not I know was not that but to me it was to me. Like I could have seen you in the bright of day. Like the light could have come up from the sea and take you over. Me over. Is there. Forgive that. Forgive that me that I was fallen down. That I was under the weather under the same sky and did not. Not yet. If I took. If I had taken your good right hand I might have pulled you. Up. Pulled the black sea out of us. Saw you. Left you. Is there some truth in that? I went out to the cold. Thought I'd know what to do. Bring you with me. Bring you with. Sad and sad and sad fool me slipping down. Slope hill mountainside. Muck and stones on me. On my feet and rain in my hair. I thought about it but I could not stop. Pushed it further in. Needle and syringe. This will take me out of that. Like it could. As though it might do in any way. Forgive me. Forgive me that that I didn't see. Look out my eyes. That I didn't know what I was doing though I did though I did. Oh do you love me. Can you love me. Do you love me still. My sins. My grievous. Woe my wrong. I went out to him and said do what you will if you want. If you're able will you save me from that. I put a pillow on my face on your face and I said suffocate. It could have been. It could have been that. If I chose if I didn't. If I knew what to do. I don't so by the way I'm telling you. I'm warning now what a monster I have become. Soap in my mouth my eyes my hair turning bitter at the smallest drop. Of the rain give me the rain and all that. Wash oh yes wash that's it wash away. My. Sin.” 5 likes
“Hurt me. Until I am outside pain.” 2 likes
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