Something that a lot of you won’t know about me is that I am a literature and history student. Although I get up to a lot of reading – whether it be for my course or just for personal enjoyment – it is not often that a book captivates me so much that I feel compelled to write about it.
From the very first page of A Girl is a Half Formed Thing I was completely transfixed. Every single word holds resonance, power and intrigue. It is a book unlike anything I have ever read before. Where I felt almost hypnotised by McBride’s haunting language, I was simultaneously disturbed by the nature of the themes. It was the feeling of being both “enchanted and repelled” that F Scott Fitzgerald describes in Great Gatsby.
I’m going to start off with a little warning that this novel is certainly not for everyone. This is perhaps why it took months to write, but nine years to publish. While I feel that reading it has been completely rewarding and eye-opening, it has been an unrelenting emotional ordeal. I would not recommend it to someone who is sensitive to a number of triggering subjects. This includes rape, child abuse, cancer, death, suicide and masochism.
As well as this, the novel would work well with someone is unconcerned by the disregard for conventional grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. In this sense, it is definitely not a light-easy read. Thoughts and imagery spill across the page in a jumbled stream, with the language becoming even more entangled as tension peaks at different points in the novel. McBride’s crude and unfiltered narrative of consciousness creates a slight barrier to audience comprehension, but evokes a primal feeling of emotion that would be difficult to achieve if she used perfectly coherent syntax. In a sense, it reminded of Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf as the reader is completely immersed into the thoughts of her characters.
My favourite part of the novel was the exploration of psychology and the shaping and destruction of identity. If this interests you, you will undeniably be captivated by this novel. All of the characters are un-named, forcing you to grasp a sense of their self through the fragmentary syntax. The reader is disorientatingly thrown amidst the thoughts and feelings of the ‘girl’, which volatilely shift along with her experiences. For me, the main issue was not just how a person copes with loss and disease, but instead was the inability to wash away scarring incidents from one’s personal identity. This is an aspect I believe that everyone can relate to (even though I shudder to think of anyone who may have suffered as much of an ordeal as the protagonist).
Overall, I would definitely pick up this novel if you are searching to read something unlike anything you have ever read before. As Eleanor Catton remarks, “read it and be changed”. Love it or hate it; A Girl is a Half Formed Thing must be appreciated for the unique experience it provides its reader.