Full congratulations to Eimear McBride for deservedly winning the Baileys Women's Prize.
Although Eimear McBride is English, (she was born in Liverpool but moved to Ireland when she was tiny, growing up in Sligo and Mayo), she approaches being under Joyce’s shadow in a refreshing, 21stC way. She says Joyce “pointed the way for her”, and that there is still ‘plenty of room left in modernism (at least I hope so, she admits.) Her book won the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize for fiction as well as being on the short-list for the Bailey Prize.
As a writer, she approaches her technique by using audaciously radical and challenging language. Certainly, this must be the most ambitious and furthest reaching piece of stream of consciousness that has been attempted recently, notwithstanding Ali Smith’s contributions. She says she felt there were areas of language, especially stream of consciousness that hadn’t been explored, for instance by taking a step back from consciousness, to the moment when thoughts are conceptualized…even before they are;
Feel the roast of it. Like sunburn. Like a hot sunstroke. Like globs dropping in. Through my hair. Spat skin with it. Blank my eyes the dazzle. Huge shatter. Me who is just new. Fallen out of the sky. What.
This allows the emotion to hit you slightly after the physical reaction hits you, making the read a physical experience. Being brought right into the narrator’s mind is however not a pleasant experience. It’s a disjointing, sickening and often frightening experience. McBride’s subject matter is harrowing, even if her plot is simple, even derivative – a child watches her slightly older brother succumb slowly to brain cancer, while she explores, via rape and family abuse, her growing sexuality But the rhythm of the language is simply something else...it drags you in like a Wagner aria, so that you both love and hate what you’re reading at the same tine.
The title is equally interesting as in Magge’s work, for A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing describes both the extravagant, disconcerting, jumbled-up language and the way the pace is broken over and over again, as well as the broken life of the protagonist. This amazing rhythm allows you to do an incredible thing....understand exactly what is being said.
One of the most amazing things about this first novel is that it was written almost a decade ago. Unsurprisingly, it was rejected by publisher after publisher, until the Galley Beggar Press took it up. These small, independent publishing houses are bringing us some of the best works around; I’d cite Jane Rogers, whose The Testament of Jessie Lamb was taken up by Standstone Press and went on to win prizes.
This book really deserved its prize. It does new, surprising things with our emotions, an example of a truly exceptional first novel.