Eimear McBride achieved worldwide fame (who knows, hopefully fortune may soon follow…) after last week’s Baileys Prize ceremony, earning column inches in the New York Times, the Telegraph, a couple of pieces in the Guardian (one on the influence of Joyce, another on the novel’s unique style), the Sydney Morning Herald… and just about everywhere else. Here are seven excellent reads, most of them written before McBride’s red-letter day.
On the style of A Girl Is a Half-Formed Things:
I decided to punctuate mainly with full stops in the first draft and that was because there’s nothing like misplacing one to indicate something else is going on in a text. The principle just got extended as the drafts went by. In fact, during the tortuous copy-edit it was once suggested I use a semi-colon, which I couldn’t for fear its solitary inclusion would bestow more significance than the tatty sentence merited!
I was interested to see how far it was possible to push word order and structure while still remaining comprehensible and – more importantly – engaging … It seemed to me that when attempting to tell a story from a point so far back in the mind that it is completely experiential, completely gut-reactive and balancing on the moment just before language becomes formatted thought, English needs to be made to pick up its feet and move.
On how she expected readers to react:
I have no expectations about reader response to the story itself and, from the outset, had none in mind that I hoped to provoke. It’s quite interesting to now – finally – be in a position to hear reader’s responses – the diversity of which can be both delightful and alarming! And while I’d say I had no notional reader in mind, I was always aware that I wasn’t just ‘writing for myself’ – which I consider one of the laziest, ill-conceived pieces of advice ever offered to writers (If you want to ‘write for yourself’ keep a diary).
On the tortuous path towards publication before Norwich independent publisher Galley Beggar Press took the plunge:
Girl was recently turned down by a large publishing house in the US because they feared ‘…that broad-mindedness is a thing of the past and that McBride’s brilliant and moving novel will suffer in the marketplace as a result’.
I can’t count how many responses I’ve had in that vein and I don’t think they’re just a problem for me personally. Responses like that are a problem for everyone interested in serious writing. I will be eternally grateful to Galley Beggar for the risk they took in publishing Girl and for possessing the imagination to see beyond the narrow perimeters marketing departments offer to their giant international counterparts. That they have generated so much interest on a marketing budget of almost nothing is testament to their hard work but also to the fact that there is an audience out there for this kind of writing and while Girl isn’t going to make millionaires of any of us, it has a place and a value too. Publishing shouldn’t be about seeking out next year’s rip-off of last year’s hit. Both readers and writers deserve better.
2. From reviewer John P. O’Sullivan:
McBride is a dark pointillist. Her short sentences, frequently merely a word or two, coalesce to create a horrific world where religious superstition and bullying are the norm and sexual encounters are nasty, brutish and not short on violence. The rat-tat-tat of these sentences are like drum beats cranking up your emotions. There’s an incantatory feel to them. The absence of conventional syntax, of subject, predicate, and object, gives your imagination room to roam within the cryptic dabs of meaning. It sounds flakey but works in practice. The book will arouse powerful emotions in anyone who accords it the respect of reading it with attention.
This cry of pain from the halls of hell is a tour-de-force. It’s difficult to see where McBride can go next – if anywhere. This might be a one-off masterpiece rather than the first step in a literary career.
(For the uninitiated (like me), Wikipedia explainer of pointillism here).
3. From The Writes of Woman blog:
What’s most impressive about A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing though is McBride’s prose. Formed largely of stuttering sentences – some short, some merely fragments – she builds pictures of people and of incidents whose impact is all the more forceful for this lexical brick-by-brick approach. It is an impressive feat for any writer to experiment with language to this degree, never mind a debut author.
From The New Humanist, on being forced to start afresh:
[Before starting to write Girl] I’d been making notes for around two years. Then I got married and my husband [the arts festival director William Galinsky] got a gig in Japan. The plan was for me to take some time off to write when we returned. But just before we left, our house got broken into. My handbag was stolen along with all my notes.
I didn’t even have a computer! This was in 2004. I spent about three days looking through the bins and hedges of Tottenham. I was devastated. But it was probably a good thing for me to start afresh.
4. From For Books’ Sake, on the title:
A girl is as half-formed as a woman is fully-formed. I suppose the feminist element is ‘Thing’ and there can hardly be a woman alive who doesn’t understand the objectification it implies. From the covers of lad’s mags, to peachy airbrushed make-up ads, to broadsheets leering over the under-age daughters of the rich and famous, the media has women done up good and tight against any expression of their actual selves. The ever present implication is that making an object/brand/thing of yourself is the only [way] forward in life and I disagree.
5. From David Collard in The TLS, on influences:
Joyce comes to mind, of course, and this could be Molly Bloom’s great-great-great-granddaughter’s soliloquy: the story of a bright young woman who is argumentative, confused, sexually adventurous, sad and angry … Other major influences seem to be Henry Green’s Living and Party Going and the breathless accumulated fragments of Samuel Beckett’s How It Is. But such models are subordinate to the author’s own distinctive voice … She is working on a second novel. This is something to anticipate with interest because Eimear McBride is a writer of remarkable power and originality.
6. From the (UK) Independent blog, on the art design of the various covers (from Galley Beggar Press’s classic look to Faber’s apple through to the US edition, by Coffee House Press, due later this year):
It’s not just that the fruit is over-ripe, the bruise of the apple is carried over into the faux water damage to the cover itself – which you could just take as a reference to the damp walls of an old, cold house in the country, or as a nod to the water that pervades the book, especially in the lake so crucial to the plot’s unfolding.
All in all a great cover.
7. From Kill Your Darlings journal, on what might come next:
I’m still following that path [modernism]. I’m not very interested in straight writing. There are plenty of people who can do that, and are doing that very well. I don’t think the world needs any more straight writers. My writing now is not the same, and the style is evolving. When I was writing A Girl I felt like I was backing against language and always trying to turn it on itself. Now I feel much more as though I’m going with it. So in that way it is quite a different experience.