Book review: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing

This was another book that I’d heard good things about but had forgotten exactly what I’d heard or where I’d heard it. Still, it had collected a good fistful of prizes, including the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, so I was curious.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride


This is definitely a bit of an odd book and not a very happy one. The strangest thing, by far, is the style of the prose. It’s told in the first person in a very stream-of-consciousness style. So much so that sentences break up midway through, only to be picked up again later, and there’s a lot of repetition. It reads the way you might literally expect someone to think. The style is unexpected and jarring, but if you can wade through it, it brings you very close to the girl whose story is being told. You find yourself right inside her head, which is not always a pleasant place to be. A relatively straightforward and lucid example,

I am tired. Too full of stuff I’ve done. Where my legs hurt where my scalp hurts. I’ll not fight the thing inside me anymore. Let it eat me up. Please God. I want it to.

The unnamed narrator is barely a toddler when her older brother survives brain cancer, but his recovery isn’t totally complete. He loses the sight of one eye and has trouble keeping up in school and needs lots of attention from their mother. Perhaps, as a result, the girl is often ignored. She struggles too, with her mother’s fanatic faith, with further family tragedies and with abuse. All of this comes to us haltingly, yet almost poetically, through McBride’s strange style.

It’s a hard book to read, for content and style. I don’t think I can say that I enjoyed it but then, I don’t think you’re really supposed to.

10 thoughts on “Book review: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing

  1. We read this in our book group a while back and I’m afraid it was universally disliked. As you say, it’s probable not meant to be enjoyed, but we found it just too bleak and difficult.

    Liked by 1 person

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