McBride’s novel is written in a dense, interrupted, shattered language, blooming with neologisms, compounds, stretched senses, old words put to new uses … When McBride’s prose is most difficult, it is because it is doubly difficult: hard to follow and hard to bear … McBride’s language also justifies its strangeness on every page. Her prose is a visceral throb, and the sentences run meanings together to produce a kind of compression in which words, freed from the tedious march of sequence, seem to want to merge with one another, as paint and musical notes can. The results are thrilling, and also thrillingly efficient.
[A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing] forgoes quotation marks and elides verbiage for sense, sound and sheer appearance on the page. For emphasis it occasionally wreaks havoc on capItalS and reverses letter order. It is, in all respects, a heresy — which is to say, Lord above, it’s a future classic … McBride opts for a first-person heroine-narrator who drinks, takes drugs and enjoys — but is traumatized by — sex. She’s a lapsed Catholic, and always a cowed but dutiful daughter … A Girl subjects the outer language the world expects of us to the inner syntaxes that are natural to our minds, and in doing so refuses to equate universal experience with universal expression.
McBride writes in a stream-of-consciousness style that reflects her narrator’s fragmented and damaged psyche. It’s a method as clever and effective as it is opaque and confusing … In some sections, the novel’s halting, elliptical style conveys confusion and terror more honestly than coherent paragraphs ever could. McBride has perfected a language commensurate with the scrambled strains of shame, pain and desire felt by a girl being raped by her uncle. Her garbled sentences capture the lacunae of intoxication … I appreciate the stylistic theory behind her tortured style, but I also couldn’t help but wish that these linguistic shenanigans would get out of the way once in a while and let this plaintive story come through unimpeded.
McBride takes on classic Irish literary themes — a harsh, unforgiving religion, damaged families, the dying and the dead, transgressive sex — and gives them a gritty new spin, in language that manages to convey pre-verbal experience. While McBride's girl may be a half-formed thing, there's nothing half-formed about even her most fragmented sentences … McBride's writing is so alive with internal rhymes, snippets of overheard conversation, prayers and unfiltered emotion, and her narrator so feisty, that readers can't help but be pulled into the vortex of this devastating, ferociously original debut.
Girl treats bodily decay and the extreme stress it places on a family without the triumphalism of many survivor memoirs...Instead, Girl’s narrator processes her brother’s illness by shaping the forceful reactions that she experiences in her mind and body into fragmented shards of language that mirror the extremity of her pain … What is fascinating here, and what should induct the novel into a more enduring canon of women’s writing, is that McBride never self-censors when engaging with the pain, the abjection, and the desperation generated out of situations in which a woman is granted little more than her body and her words to use as weapons within imbalanced power structures.
Elisions, hiccups and portmanteaus abound in this novel, but to focus on the syntactical novelties would be to neglect this story’s heart … A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is a coming-of-age story told through one Catholic family’s struggle to cope with trauma … McBride again and again allows readers to confront those moments imbued with embarrassment and, later, regret … The most painful—and the most poignant—facet of this novel is the relationship McBride creates between the narrator and her brother, who she addresses directly (‘you’) throughout the book.
The narrator begins telling her story from the womb, and the pages that unfold are nominally her autobiography. Coming of age in Catholic Ireland, enduring the onset of sexuality, escaping to college and Dublin, McBride’s narrator is always ricocheting back to her family and her origins despite or because of the damage they’ve done … The entire novel is addressed to the narrator’s unnamed brother, who survived brain cancer as a child only to suffer from the damage that life-saving surgery inflicted, and to slowly succumb to the drabness of disability and dependence. He is the you to her I.
The prose, while seeming literarily anarchic, is actually quite focused, stripping sentences to their bare bones not as part of some stylistic exercise, but to convey immediate experience as lived … McBride’s aim, it seems, is to capture experience almost prior to thought, dropping the reader into events at the very moment the narrator, too, encounters them … Girl hews closely to what the feminist philosopher Julia Kristeva called the ‘dark revolt of being’ that looms within abjection.
This is a novel that initially intimidates, but after we have adapted to McBride's rhythms, its creative and emotional power renders us awe-struck … Our narrator grows up acclimatizing to the ‘empty spaces where fathers should be’ and finds those gaps sporadically filled by a fearsome grandfather who wants to discipline her and a loathsome uncle who sexually assaults her … McBride forces us to look on voyeuristically as her heroine, ‘full with marks of going wrong,’ spins out of control. It is a harsh and unsettling experience, intensified by the author's jerky, fragmented and syncopated prose.
You root for the girl to break her incestuous bonds with a family that is sick at many levels. But her entrapment seems more honest, psychologically speaking, because leaving the place you started is always easier than shedding its emotional pull. The cut-to-the-bone intensity of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing will be too raw for some, too confusing for others. It is certainly no ordinary work of fiction. But it is an accomplished one, worthy of the attention it has received, with a consistent voice and logic beneath its crazy-quilt surface.
This is an odd and dark book, a headlong rush through a painful and damp and unredeemed short life, a life narrated with such energy and fervor that the very structure of the sentence, of grammar and paragraph must be shoved out of the way in order for this voice to emerge … It was certainly not this plot, such as it is, that had me whooping with joy. It was the audacity of the project and the sheer energy with which McBride pulls it off. This is no middlebrow novel of sorrow redeemed. The language is wild and precise, lacking commas altogether, using the full stop to create a language that is as close to felt experience as one can get. And yet, it is not a ‘difficult’ read.
The story is brutal, and the storytelling style is challenging. Off-putting, even. And so, this is art: McBride's book contains familiar elements – family, cancer, sexual abuse – but reveals them in singular style … In all its zesty, experimental glory, this novel strives not to be loved, but to be vividly remembered. Maybe it also seeks to make us think about how we tell the stories of our own lives when we're the only ones listening … I was terminally distracted, though, by what the author was trying to convey with her choice of voice...I did not love this trek, I endured it – and gave thanks to have arrived at the final word.