The Lesser Bohemians

Eimear McBride

September 20, 2016 
The following is from Eimear McBride’s novel, The Lesser Bohemians. McBride's debut novel, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, was published in 2013 and catapulted the author to international recognition, earning her numerous prize nominations and wins. The novel won the 2013 Goldsmiths Prize, was shortlisted for the Folio Prize and won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2014.


Saturday 12 March 1994

I move. Cars move. Stock, it bends light. City opening itself behind. Here’s to be for its life is the bite and would be start of mine.

Remember. Look up. Like the face of god was lighting me through those grilles above, through windows once a church this hall, and old men watch below. Come in. Please go straight to the stage. I snag my skirt on continents of paint chipped out black by toes and heels, by fingers picking clicking for years. I’d do too if I was here. When I’ll be here. Will I be here? Take a moment, they say Then let’s have your first piece. I. Suck antique air and. Go.

I don’t know but it’s done by some switch of the brain, this fooling off the girl I am. Giving tendril words to the dust-sunned air or twist from my mouth weeds of her until she’s made her way through time from Arden, Greece or whoever wrote these lines of words learned in my head. Innocent to the work of balconies or beds, I let her talk run free in me and bring her for the age.

And after.

They bait me. Strip me a bit. Ask who and you’re young, why not see the world first? Shouldn’t actors see so many things? But I’m sure I have in the deep of my brain. Against my tick-tocking minus in life – books and films, fancied plays I’ll be in, men surely meet, New York taxis maybe run for in elegant heels. Shouldn’t these outweigh what dun school skirts there’s been in this bud of life I own? And lower too, just left unsaid, time when life was something else but I’ve understood a whole world, all remaining is To Do. Can they not see this print on me? Ho ho, they flock You’re all grown-up certainly but second speech, if you would?

Seated on the floor this, lino underfoot. Her giving out little thoughts, some simple things she’s understood. This lady in her simple skirt, hands open to a gentle earth and though I’m close inside my voice fills wide into the calm. Beseeches but such a quiet way. And this time they are with me, know in her I’ve done my time. May hold her up for looking at and gently set her down. Then let chipped paint oceans roll me back to their shore, hopeful as a breeze. And they only Thank you we’ll let you know. That’s it? Letter next week in the post. Go on out through the canteen. So my audition’s done and can’t be undone now.

From their path I stroll to the City no city, I think to Camden Town. London unspooling itself behind. Traffic all gadding in the midday shine. So many people. So much stone. All at once and streets ahead. I’ll bring it with. I will make myself of life here for life is this place and would be start of mine.


Monday 19 September – Friday 9 December 1994

Lo lay London Liverpool Street I am getting to on the train. Legs fair jigged from halfway there. Dairy Milk on this Stansted Express and cannot care for stray sludge splinters in the face of England go by. Bishop’s Stortford. Tottenham Hale. I could turn I could turn. I cannot. Too late for. London. Look. And a sky all shifts to brick. Working through its tunnels, now walking on its streets, a higher tide of people than I have ever seen and – any minute now – In. Goes. Me.

Worm in their wormholes. Versts of stairs. New eyes battling posters and escalators I find my way to Kentish Town – wind-slapped in the face as the tiles lead round. Up though, yes and to the house. Tall. Taller than I knew and an old Irish landlady with no T’s by now. Maybe in time that’ll be you? No. Maybe that’ll be me. Her – on her top floor – rules, only one: Absolutely no strange men, show me no lies and I’ll ask you no questions. Oh yes of course. But at the pad off of her slippers, I rattle at my lock. Then turn about to open wide and touch the room on either side. Three-foot bed of freedom. Beauty board walls of delight. Streaked nets of the escapee. Four floors below, a London street. Unpack knickers and unpack tapes. So the first weekend begins like this, here in the homesickless new. And later, under condensation drip from the wall, I still think here is for me. Even when auld langers row in the hall. Even incandescent piss on the toilet floor, even so. Here I am and here is for me.

Weekend then to Monday.

Nine brings the day. Dampened to fresh-cheeked I go up the stone steps, in amid the already-belonged. Laughing and smoking they verve from the start. Darling! Coiffs flying. Surveying each other. One welcome enough to point the Registrar out. Alright there? I think I ushered the day you tried out. Lank silver streak down his hair rings true. Oh yes I remember what year are you? Third, and pulls the door to, allowing me in for the start. His lassitude and longitude like rebuke to my nerves. Thanks. No worries, hey you’ll be alright. One of them now just the same.

Hum walls of the well-known once I’m in. Is it only me? No. Must for everyone. Don’t we all wonder whose head, hand touched there? After registering, which famous foot ground the grooves in these stairs winding up to the balcony? Up to this top. Costume racks and plank floor. Boys right. Girls left—some already stripping off to their lovely English skins. Upright in their bare bras with crisp-type speaking while I’m ducking in a locker to cover mine up. Ah, amn’t I here to get over my body’s stops. Well? Time and more to come.

Tss. Shhh. Get in quick. Don’t be late or. Definitely don’t take the piss. He can’t be as bad as. That’s what I heard. He is the most. He’s like the dad—if your dad kicks the shit out of you.


So if he laughs at me? So thinks I am young? He’s the one offered my place into this room and ring of the mesmerised, ready to care. I do too and am impressed by his stalk across, and eventful stare, as he gees us towards books and plays not yet read. Wills us to fend off the swine philistines who’d have us all kept in the kitchens of life. If we let them. We won’t let them—jobbing actors or stars—sat on paint that I pick at and click at with fingers. Yes I’ll be fired glass where stray sand has been. Sifted and lit. Here you’ll make what you’ll be. Broken mirrors are waste in a broke society. Well there’s not much I know about that. But straight off, envisaging strife For A Cause, turns running away into running towards. And horror-storifying prior life things lets the future be what London brings. So glory Bye to the left behind. Smiling right at me then, as though divined. No coming here wasted, he says That’s strictly for the weekend and for those of you who’ve just left home, remember to use a condom. It gets like a hothouse in here and we don’t want anything going around.

Jesus. Jesus he never. Jesus he really did. No teacher Never, nor anyone else. Bang out blatant about going permissive. Noting, I note another face laughing just like me. Trying not. To be mature. To keep the rict from boiling over. Of an age she also seems so I Hello when I’d not usually. Then she, sloe-eyed with slowest smiles, says Cuppa? In the canteen? And so wriggle in. Slip in. Remember people are blind to under your skin or. Under my skin now.

Vaudeville she, drawing all around. Funniest. And good to found a friendship. At least she’s a side to go side by with to class. Vault the day then with its procession of self. What’s your name? Whereabouts are you from? Live close? I hate the announcing but new futures demand new reckonings so I shuffle around what I have. Not much, not much, only me. Far from exotic when there’s Spaniards and Greeks. And here the first Dane I’ve ever met. Australian girls. Not white or Irish. You mean English up North? I only crossed a sea. Speak French then? Amazing. Fluently? I’d love to slip my homogeneity but. On to the next class. Go.

On the night bed, I ache with foretelling the term through. Who to sit by? Or’s bench to amble to? Where I am in the ranks or might belong? With the younger, yes. And if I’m youngest? So? I’m not of the glick-tongued university set. Nor those opting in as an out from office work. Not with the encyclopaedic-knowledged of every ever staged show. Or the paying rent by modelling. Or the money’s all from home. No. I can’t align myself. Odd one out, but intentions the best and I don’t mind much because Fuck Off fitting in—not that I’d refuse a spate of more usual fun. At least here I’m in, rather than waiting on and. Fishes in the water fishes in the sea might we not jump up with a one two three?

In days:

In your mind’s eye stand at Chalk Farm tube, then walk from there to here. This morning’s walk. As it was. Recreating what you saw and heard. Traffic. Birdsong. Fumes from a bus. Notice every little thing and if you go blank, restart. Is it clear? Yes? Alright. Begin:

I fa. I. Step into. Ticket in my hand. Lift. Memory lifting. Concrete wet. Muck tiles. Memory lift to. Queue to. Bank machine. Roadside. To. Bus. Beggar. Back. No. Lift to ‘No Begging’ sign. Ears to the tussle traffic. Mini-cab rank. Cross I here. Salvation Army Hall and. Lift. Marlon Brando Guys and Dolls and. Pub called. Pub called. Turn to and see. Frill and I. See the. What? See the. City. City. Ah fuck. Fuck it blank. Start again.

So time moves, out in slow spins. To the first of life – keep your fingers in. And my head turns drowse in its lazy rings at the starting pull of gravity. Push me through to a different eye, to this world of pearls polished up for I don’t take for granted I. Not a single gasp of air. For here’s the spot to cover my tracks, where my butter-wouldn’t-melt slams shutters down. You’re God so young. Youngest one. Youngest in our year. Like the sinless one in Babylon despite hacking at my naïve. Free to singe my wings though on others’ likely tales—my own knowing, knowing to stay well away—I do learn a little how to be. Hithering out on fast Fridays. Go out go out whoever you are. Slip in with the cliques—if estranged from their midst—at the Enterprise, Crown, Fiddler’s Elbow, I burnish myself on their glut of chat, though mouse-trapped or snapped by snide schoolboy rat-tat that I can’t quite and cannot use – Wiggins, we are the clever clogging clever while you are only you – but. Even with, I dive into this. Gaudy myself with cigarettes. Daub my soul with a good few pints til my mouth swings wide with unutterable shite. Laughing lots too, like it’s true. Worldening maybe, I think. I hope. Certainly serving to get me bold and fit for whatevers come. Truth or Dare then? She laughs Dare! Show a nipple. Nipple? There! Unseen I ripen behind long hair at her cool-eyed show and scoff. Now you Irish! Truth, I cough, faithful to my fear of stripping off. Weighing, he waits my cigarette stub then The first time did you bleed much? Ground butt ground. I bled enough. Like I bet you did, she rescue laughs and my lie ate, they banter on. But come the hour Back to mine, she says All of you.

And we’re a forged crowd round hers, locked to the jaws, rattled with chatter and choke on worse as the night undoes its lace. I don’t hold with the Fuck! Fancy digs you’ve got here! and the What does your dad do? brigade. I am all for the spell of her elegant room – white tulips in a vase. And the shop talk, I can only half make, working place for itself in my brain. Swim swim, maybe you’ll find in to the life they apparently share. So my rule, when offered, is to partake. Tinkering ashes as spliff rounds the place. Tink too of beer bottles. Odd ends of wine. Music from her new cassette going riot to loose and loose the tongue. Float up of stories. Legs gone serene. Second years tattling You’ll see what we mean; they’ll kick you to bricks then desert to rebuild. Deconstruct you, they say It’s no lie. My brain puckers with these, then—surprise—divides and the room begins to spin. Very like and nice verl. Easy now! Someone help her. Better step outside. Better I will and will someone with? Yes.

Topple out to her sill going chill against the stars. Take a deep breath. I do. That’s right. Rub my fingers much treadon this carpet-cooped night. Humful her room seems now, from outside. My flake throat ow but swirl’s whirling down. Feeling any better? A bit. Goose bump our arms. Bit airless inside, he thumbs. I nod. But my chin’s in his hand. I. Get my chin palmed. Pulled. Cheek palmed. Neck back scarlett o’h. Click! My mouth with a mouth on. My mouth by itself letting kiss and kiss draw in. Soft with the addle. Wine in the crease. Skitter I little and traitor knees. And knees. Touched. Knees. And kissed at more. Loddle of his tongue making flesh go No. Sorry and No and Shit! Slank my body. Are you alright? I am. I am Sorry. No I’m sorry, he says Just pissed and whatever. I go back on myself. I am I think I better go. Don’t because of me. No no. I am no. On my heel. To the end of her road. Sorry, and ’Night, and can’t.



From THE LESSER BOHEMIANS. Used with permission of Hogarth. Copyright © 2016 by Eimear McBride.

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