Winner of the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction and the Goldsmiths Prize
The story of a young woman's relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumor, touching on everything from family violence to sexuality and the personal struggle to remain intact in times of intense trauma.
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.