Book Review of Eimear McBride's A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is a tragedy that is both compelling and enthralling. It is also extremely disturbing and difficult to digest; it is not suitable for younger readers. Although the bookjacket states “it is a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and  chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist”, I was uttlerly unprepared for the undercurrent of almost incessant violence and the brutal rape scenes that dominate the text. My hunch is that some victims of sexual abuse or violence would find it very upsetting to read,

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is structured around a young woman whose brother’s childhood brain tumour is a factor contributing to the dysfunctional nature of the familial relationships. Able to escape to university, the girl’s childhood experiences continue to affect her understanding of what ‘love’ is and her time at university is spent in a series of sexual encounters during which the protagonist uses violent sex as a coping mechanism for the trauma she has suffered. Unable to leave the horror of her childhood rape behind her, the reader is given some insight into her psyche and behaviour. The reader is encouraged to understand the motivation for what can be viewed, inaccurately, as erratic promiscuous behavour. McBride successfully provides the tools and the content by which the reader can begin to understand some of the awareness of the complexity of the effects of sexual abuse.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is completely deserving of being a winner of the women’s prize for fiction as her writing is simply brilliant. From the very first line the reader is thrust into the narrator’s head; the narrative voice is unlike any I’ve seen before. Using a combination of unfinished thoughts, incomplete  phrases, random tangential thoughts, Irish dialect and expletives, the very essence of who the narrator is implodes and explodes. A  kind of ‘stream of consciousness’. with a rawness, and speed that is almost impossible to grasp or pin down, evokes an intense and unforgettable response. The reader is left reeling, and shocked, but like a guilty voyeur needing to know more. The narrative style is disturbing, exhausting, yet perfectly executed.

Book Discussion Questions on Eimear McBride's A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

  • The protagonist of the novel is not given a name. Why is that? 
  • Do you think the protagonist’s mum or aunt knew that she had been raped by her uncle? Why or why not? 
  • How would the protagonist describe her mother? How would you describe her mother?
  • What are the main hyprocrisies explored in the novel? 
  • Did you enjoy the narrative style of Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing? Why or why not? Do you think the style which approaches ‘stream of consciousness’ is more suited for skim readers or very careful readers?
  • What did you learn from reading Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing?
  • What is the relevance of the title ‘A Girl is a Half-formed Thing’?
  • How do you think the mother and the community will respond to the protagonist’s suicide?
  • The nature of the narrative style means that the reader is given a lot of insight into the protgonist’s view of herself. What would you include in a pyschoanalyst’s report written about the protagonist? 
  • The protagonist of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing seeks out and has many sexual partners.  She is described as being a ‘slut’ by her mother and her brother. What do you understand by the term ‘slut’? Why is this an appropriate or inappropriate term for the protagonist? 
  • Is it overly simplistic to state that the protagonist sought out numerous sexual partners because she was raped? If so why? 
  • Why didn’t the protagonist report the rape? Why is this question potentially offensive? 
  • How difficult was it for you, as the reader, to understand the protagonist’s actions?

Book Discussion Questions of Eimear McBride's A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (if you haven't read the book!)

  • The protagonist’s brother is desperate to be a ‘cool kid’. This is something he very fleetingly manages when he moves school. Do you think we ever lose the desire to be cool? (This is something that I’ve explored in a ‘self-musings’ blog post.)
  • Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is not, perhaps, suitable for younger readers. Do you believe in censorship of fiction? 
  • In what way would the peripheral characters view events differently if the roles of the brother and sister had been reversed (the girl had a childhood illness and the boy was raped)?
  • The protagonist in Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is an unreliable narrator. What other novels have you read and perhaps enjoyed where the events are relayed entirely by one narrator.
  • Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is an uncomfortable read. It challenges preconceived ideas about religion, sexual abuse and stereotypes. Do you like to have your own views challenged? When it occurs how open are you to reconsidering your viewpoint?

Personal Response to Eimear McBride's A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is both bold and courageous. It is also a deeply troubling read. Although the book jacket of Eimear McBride’s novel outlines the story as intimate insight into ‘the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist.’ I wasn’t prepared for the level of violence, abuse and horrific rapes that take place in the story. Had I known I don’t think I’d have read it. Having said that I am very glad that I did. It is brilliantly written, powerful and moving. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it, perhaps the closest thing is some of the ‘sexual scenes’ described in some of Sally Rooney’s Conversation with Friends which I reviewed on Goodreads. There are also aspects of it that reminded my of Tara Westover’s Educated.

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