Through studying Irish fiction, I finally got around to reading Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. After getting past the original difficulty with McBride’s stream-of-consciousness narrative, what I found was a particularly disturbing novel that has stuck with me for some time. McBride’s next novel, The Lesser Bohemians, whilst slightly less difficult to read (in no small part due to having read the first novel) and lighter in tone, shows the same disturbing attitude to sex and relationships.
After the narrator’s rape at the age of thirteen by her Uncle, her life seems to become a series of increasingly terrible ‘relationships’, if you can go so far as to call them that. At first, she appears to have control of her situation, however by the end of the novel the scenes of a sexual nature are barely readable. What the narrator of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing has in common with Eily, the narrator of The Lesser Bohemians is that their first sexual experience is all-consuming. They both feel a strong love and attachment to their first lovers, even though both experiences are less than loving. They both go out and have relations with other men before coming back again to the same one, almost as if they are destined, or doomed as the case may be, to be with them.
Reference is made frequently in The Lesser Bohemians to the concept of ‘Irish shame’, and being Irish in itself. It seems that this is defining, particularly for Eily, their sexual attitude. Although both women become far more free in sexual relationships after their initial encounters, it is shown that it is of great importance to them. Their strong attachment and unique sexual attitudes afterwards seem to show that the sexual restrictions they would have experienced as a result of their Irish background caused this.
However, the most prominent and obvious theme and the reason for the strange relationship with sex for both girls is their innocence. For the narrator of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, she is extremely young when she begins these relationships- whereas Eily is in her late teens, embarrassed at being the only virgin among her peers, and carries an embarrassment about sex for some time that does not exist in A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing because it never even had the chance to develop.
Both novels give incredible insight into the lives of their narrators and are definitely worth reading if you can get past McBride’s prose- and both will keep you thinking for some time.