For Books’ Sake Talks To: Eimear McBride
20th Nov 2013
Recently published by Galley Beggar Press, Eimear McBride‘s début has been critically acclaimed and universally lauded.
Gritty in places, graphic in others, and always challenging, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing takes an unconventional approach to style, and the themes of love, loss, cancer, death, poverty, restrictive religion, violence and sexual assault never make for stress-free reading. McBride concedes that ‘I certainly didn’t expect readers to find it a pleasure!’
‘The book is a work of fiction so isn’t all based on my own experience and, given how long it’s taken to get published, even what is [semi-autobiographical] isn’t recent any more!’ she asserts.
However, there are echoes of McBride’s own history in that experienced by Girl, the unnamed protagonist in the novel. ‘I wasn’t interested in writing a memoir and was also concerned that I might be tempted to sentimentalise,’ she concludes.
From the covers of lad's mags, to peachy airbrushed make-up ads, to broadsheets leering over the under-age daughters of the rich and famous, the media has women done up good and tight against any expression of their actual selves. But it is certainly inspired by life experience to a degree, and themes such as family relations and experiences of ‘belonging, or not belonging’ are all very heartfelt and pertinent.
Born into poverty and oppression, with a lack of societal support, the life experiences of the protagonist predicate a spiral of self-destruction, during which she hopes to find and become her true self.
‘One of the main themes of the book centres around the girl’s repeated attempts to become fully-formed, to become a woman and to take control of her situation but everything she has been taught about herself or about how to view herself, conspires against her.’ says McBride. ‘She is the product of a society which forbids women even basic humanity and objectifies them completely, either sexually or sentimentally. The title is merely a statement of fact.’
‘A girl is as half-formed as a woman is fully-formed,’ Eimar McBride explains, decoding the obscure title. ‘I suppose the feminist element is ‘Thing’ and there can hardly be a woman alive who doesn’t understand the objectification it implies. From the covers of lad’s mags, to peachy airbrushed make-up ads, to broadsheets leering over the under-age daughters of the rich and famous, the media has women done up good and tight against any expression of their actual selves. The ever present implication is that making an object/brand/thing of yourself is the only forward in life and I disagree.’
The girl is making sense of her situation as the reader is exposed to it, projected through a stream of consciousness style that drags the reader into the immediacy of the drama and its associated emotions.
‘I was attempting to find a completely different direction from which the reader could experience the narrative voice,’ explains Eimar McBride. ‘Not the author ‘telling’ so much as ‘showing’ the story, in a much more direct way than usual. I wanted the reader to feel combined with and complicit with the girl. So I worked on, what I think of as, a kind of stream of pre-consciousness, meaning that the reader arrives in on the action at exactly the same moment the girl is beginning to react and process it herself.’
The immediacy of experience is expressed via the syntax and structure, and it propels the reader straight into both the action and the thought processes of the narrator.
Dark words delivered in syncopation tap away relentlessly, creating a deliberate and compelling read, made close to home as the reader is literally plunged in alongside Girl. Is this intentional, so that the reader feels as though we are that girl? Is she Girl with a capital, every girl, a representative girl?
McBride says no: ‘… but she is any girl, given the right – or should I say wrong? – circumstances.’
It’s an assumption often made that writing is a cathartic process, an exorcism of difficult emotions, and the idea of art from adversity continues to thrive. ‘Having lost my own brother a few years before, I found the idea of a novel about the relationship between a brother and sister uncomfortable. But the idea was insistent, so I began to explore it and it eventually became A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. I wouldn’t say I see writing as an exorcism so much as a filing system.’
Nine years in the making, from writing to publication, it was only when meeting Norwich-based independent publisher Galley Beggar Press that publication of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing became a reality. What are McBride’s thoughts on the future for publishing and independent writers such as herself?
‘It’s a tough industry with many publishers without the imaginations their bankrolls are supposed to subsidize,’ she says. Despite this cynicism, Eimar McBride insists there are plenty of interesting individuals within the smaller independent presses, who ‘by providing a lifeline for unusual and experimental writers, will be the saving of the publishing industry one day.’
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is out now and available from here.