Texas Book Festival: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing

Eimear McBride's haunting debut novel reviewed

Texas Book Festival: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing

Eimear McBride's debut novel has won so many awards – Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, the Desmond Elliott Prize, the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, the Goldsmiths Prize – and received so much praise in the press that you'd hardly imagine the book was turned down by scores of publishers over nine years.

But that was the case. If not for the author's perseverance and the adventurousness of a pair of independent publishers in the UK and USA, readers might not know of this daring work of fiction yet. McBride appears at the Texas Book Festival this weekend, and it's fitting that she will be sitting with local author Elizabeth McCracken (Thunderstruck and Other Stories) for a session titled "Mutual Appreciation Society." McCracken was an early proponent of McBride's novel on this side of the Atlantic, and it was, in fact, a tweet of hers touting the book that led Chris Fischbach of Coffee House Press to seek the American rights to the book. You can hear the story from them at the Festival on Saturday, but before you go, check out Danielle White's review of the book.

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing

by Eimear McBride

Coffee House Press, 227pp., $24

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, an Irish tale spun in a stream-of-consciousness style that breaks even that structural nonconvention, begins with a nameless narrator addressing her older brother from the womb. She is already aware that he’s got cancer “all through his brain like the roots of trees.” He is expected to die but pulls through, a recovery that is attributed to Jesus and the power of prayer by this devout Catholic family. Dad splits, Mom turns more fully to God, and it is soon discovered that Brother didn’t make it completely unscathed, he is actually a bit “slow” as a result of the tumor.

The girl recounts life through her formative years – though the forming never actually happens – in a stop-stutter half-speech that is both childish and emotionally raw, backtracking experiences of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. She addresses her brother as “you” throughout the novel in such a way that makes it read like a confession, a letter of redemption, an apology, rather than a retelling of memories. Though there is dialogue from other characters, it is never marked with punctuation; it blurs together, reflecting an internalization of these experiences and their accompanying feelings of shame and guilt.

The only time this history is told in a more straightforward manner is when the girl moves to “the city” for college. But within a year or so, Brother gets sick again, she returns home, and it’s back to the world where “I.” serves as its own sentence. While it may seem odd for an 18-year-old to still be expressing herself this way, it actually makes sense given that she is returning to a place of emotional trauma. Home. The place. Of hurts. Only beginning. A place where one is formed. Partially. Never a place for forming oneself.

Eimear McBride will appear at the Texas Book Festival session "Mutual Appreciation Society" with Elizabeth McCracken on Saturday, Oct. 25, 12:45pm, in Capitol Extension Room E2.028 of the Texas State Capitol. For more information, visit www.texasbookfestival.org.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Texas Book Festival 2014
Texas Book Festival: Kids' Corner
Texas Book Festival: Kids' Corner
A quartet of children books by guest authors reviewed

Jessi Cape, Oct. 24, 2014

Texas Book Festival: 'Station Eleven'
Texas Book Festival: 'Station Eleven'
Emily St. Mandel's apocalyptic novel reviewed

Kimberley Jones, Oct. 24, 2014

More by Danielle White
Fathers of Football
Oklahoma high school football documentary could have gone deeper

April 26, 2019

Teen Spirit
Pop fable never feels like a smash hit

April 19, 2019


Texas Book Festival 2014, Eimear McBride, Elizabeth McCracken, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, Thunderstruck and Other Stories, Coffee House Press

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle