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A Deconstruction of Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is A Half – Formed Thing.

June 6, 2014

Andre Kertesz was a photographer. He was born near the end of the 19th century. Kertesz was very fond of taking photographs of readers. Readers of all description and varied in pose and demeanor. It was a passion that carried him throughout his life. He photographed readers from Hungary to Paris and New York. He published a book of these photographs, showcasing people enraptured within the spell of the written word. The book was entitled On Reading and it was published in 1971. There was an exhibition of the photographs in the United Kingdom and America in 2009. The pictures in this book remind us of the otherworldly joy that exists when lost in a good book. How it transports us out of our own lives and places us into the lives and mind-sets of other people, places and times. Within the world of a book we can meander down the path of anywhere we care to imagine[1].

 

It is interesting to notice that nowhere in the pages of On Reading, is anybody shown to be reading with a pen or a pencil in hand[2]. As a young girl I can recall my anguish and rage at finding one of my books scribbled in by a younger sibling. The feeling of failure because the book had not been properly protected. It was let down by my negligence and Carelessness. I was raised in a house where books were special and to be treated with reverence with love and respect. In truth there were times when my books were treated better than my siblings. Books got the best of me in many situations.

 

‘To read as a writer you must not simply revere and handle a book with religious respect. You need to defile it[3]. To read as a writer you must read with a diologue in mind and a purpose of heart and head. You should also get finger cramps from holding a pencil between your fingers so tightly and from making notes in awkward margins and end-notes. For when you read as a writer you are having an intimate conversation with the pages and the writer.  It is of no importance if you never get to actually meet and discuss with the writer. It is enough to question and contemplate within your self. If you were to meet the author, what would you say? What would you ask? Or are all the answers within the text and just waiting for you to make the correlations. That is why McBride’s devastating and brilliant debute novel was chosen as a text for deconstruction. It can be quite difficult, when one reads a great deal, to be struck by something truly unique and shiny new. To find a story told in such an ambitious and experimental style[4].

 

And he kisses me til my mouth is sore is red with it. Hurts I remember. This taste of his tongue I’ve not known. Remembered like this from anyone else. Bite me. All his mouth. Not alone Kiss till. I. He touch me. Go on pull me. He could run right through me now. Riot. This is not like. Coming home[5].

 

It is from this brief example of the text that you can see what is meant by unique storytelling, by creative scope and formidable prowess. When you first start to read this book, it can seem daunting and jarring. The small sentences, some sentences ending with ‘the’ or simply one word. This is no accident or reckless disregard for form. This is art at best and most rewarding. It takes you with it and threads your mind with a beat a poetic use of word and the physical force of the events described. McBride had the seed planted for the story by a James Joyce quote.

 

“One great part of every human existence is passed in a state which cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cut and dry grammar and go ahead plot.”

 

McBride did not read any Joyce until she was 25 and in the throws of an incredibly boring job. McBride tells Romona Koval in her interview, that as of the first few pages of Ulysses, read on her commute to work, ‘Everything was different. I had to throw away everything I had ever written and start again.’ It is such a relief that she did start again because what was born of her inspiration was something that not even James Joyce had explored so successfully and with such fearless desire for perfection. This book is not a gentle read. It is hard and it has edges that cut and bruise your very soul. It is the harshest sort of beautiful. Like a pretty melody of a song with devastating lyrics.

 

The story follows an Irish born girl from moment of her birth. Her father leaves and later dies. She spends her childhood with her frantic religious mother and a brother who suffers from brain tumors. The girl spends her youth loving this slightly older brother, protecting him. The book takes you through her sexual abuse at the hands of her uncle and the consequences of such a thing. McBride’s interest in stream of concouseness lead her to want to create a story that explored narrative from a step back from the moment consciouseness forms. Mcbride wanted the impact to be incredibly immediate. The story has this imnmediacy that is almost a physical experience. You are with the girl as she is having all these experiences and you feel it up close inside you. McBride tells Koval in her book club interview for The Monthly, that:

 

‘In a way, emotion comes after all of that. And I felt that if I made the physical and immediate concerns apparent, then the emotional reactions would just be more natural to the reader, would occur naturally to the reader, and they would understand what the emotional content was.’

 

 

The emotional content when mixed with the immediate nature of the words makes you have to stop reading and gather your wits from being strung to all the corners of your heart at once. The fact that the girl has no name and the family members do not either. It makes the story feel like it is happening to you, that you are the girl, you are existing within her head and it makes you feel more than a little included. You can feel the cold cold lake water and feel her despair and conflicted tortured mind. We are shown up close the development of a human creature. We are shown a window into what it takes to become who we are. How things can shape us.

 

It is a popular adage to say that we may not have control over certain situations but we have control over our reactions. But, what if the ‘action’ is not so much an organic occurance such as a sickness or a broken leg but something far more damaging. Something like being sexually abused before you have even come to fully understand the complex world of sex and sexual conduct.   This book shows with clarity and poetic horror just how awful and damaging sexual abuse can be, how it can shape a character that is not yet fully formed. The title of the text is very fitting and even teases you a bit with a small taste of what the contents of the pages will be, if you choose to accept the invitation.

 

The girl is essentially not yet fully formed when the abuse occurs. She is only 13 years old and the world not yet fully understood, is opening up for her and she is reeling from it, the pain and excitement of puberty. She never knew her father and the sudden appearance of this uncle confuses and excites her. It is perfectly ok for her to feel a crush come on and this would have dissolved over time and her feeling would have been projected on to more worthy and less taboo targets.

 

This is what abuse does so well, it masks the true instigator and allows the child to feel responsible. It would not have happened if I had not encouraged them. The silence screams a thousand wrongs and is the instigator to her future sexual encounters. McBride does not romanticize the sexual content in her novel. It is not all deep sighs and petting like the soliloquy of Molly Bloom in Ulysses. That was outrageous for the time in which it was written but it does not speak for woman today. McBride’s character does speak for a whole new generation and it is a voice that is loud and harrowing and deep with impact.

On page 72, McBride’s resolution is performed beautifully, to write with the intention of bringing you up close as things occur to the girl.

 

‘My legs and thighs and ankles. He will have them all of me in this. Done and done to. Doing. I’ll do all of this. Dance with the pain of it and I would do later for many bleeding days. ‘

 

Sex is treated as any other physical act. You feel it as it occurs and then the emotional bricks fall on you. McBride has taken the writing of sex to a never before experienced level. It is incredibly difficult to write about sex. There are only a handful of words and considering the variables and complexity of sex, the language at our disposal is very limited in comparison to the breadth and brevity of the subject matter. Men and woman tend to write about sex in a childish way. This can be seen in the works of Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller. They wrote about sex all the time but the woman were very much tools of a trade so to speak. It was all very arrogant and laddish. The female experience needs more exploration. This is especially true when you read of how even the language we are given to work with is inherently gendered and phallocentric as Helene Cixous would argue.

 

Woman must write herself: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies-for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put herself into the text-as into the world and into history-by her own movement[6].

 

McBride has written on being a woman in Ireland and in her ambition has carved a place for herself amongst the literary greats of James Joyce and David Beckett.   The self – doubt and bloody mindedness, it all led her to this success, this absolute triumph of literature. It was a battle to soldier on and tackle language.   The pay off is a book of power and rich with content to chew over in your mind long after you have read the last devastating page.

 

This brutal and terrible existence that is this girl, is juxtaposed and contrasted with the true love story that underpins this novel. The love she has for her brother is the one good thing the one pure thing that stands the test of text and narrative and plot. It is through this relationship that we get to catch our breath and still feel all the implications involving her brother are due to her love for him. He gets all her good. It is to her brother that the entire book is pointed towards. The ‘you’ is him. On page 218 she says: ‘I have my tender love for your sore head. For your dreams in there for all the things that are good to sleep for. Forget this house and world and stuff. We now. You and me.’

 

The last section of the novel takes its title from a poem by poet W.B Yeats. The stolen child is a poem about fairies luring a human child into a lake. This poem is threaded through the final section of the book and throughout the rest in regards to the use of water and the girl’s relationship with the lake near her mother’s house. McBride grew up in Sligo which is a place saturated with Yeats type connotations. His poem The Stolen Child was the first poem McBride ever learned[7]. Water is a cleansing device and the girl seeks it out at the lake. The water she wants to wash her sins away. She wants to be good and not feel so constantly unclean. Water has a tangible essence that she seeks to grasp at when all is crumbling around her and inside her. As she fractures the language of the book fractures with her and words take on a new structure. The references to Yeats can be seen on page 235.

For he comes the comes the human child to the waters and the wild. Me hand in hand. The world’s more full of all those things than we can understand I’m singing. Running[8].

 

The Stolen Child is full of lonely and dark and beautiful things. Things that can be likened to the girl’s own experiences.

 

Reading McBride’s novel as a writer was rich in rewards. Not only was it a terrible joy to read, but it also does what great literature can do. It poses questions and reflects a world that is dangerous and hard to swallow at times. The nuggets of truth and sincerity have edges and spikes that tear out new ideas and slowly drown you in the world of one girl. A girl that could be anyone of us. A girl who probably is deep inside all of us. Some of us are lucky enough never to have such seeds nurtured in such violent and inexcusable ways. If you break a plate and say sorry, does the plate go back to how it was before? This is something to be contemplated when it comes to something being broken before it even has time to blossom fully. This is the tragedy and horror of McBride’s novel. The girl is broken before she is even fully formed in regards to adulthood. When it comes to abusive sex, you must as a writer take pains not to trivialize or misrepresent.

 

Given the damage that can be caused when sex is used inappropriately, when a child is abused, when a woman is abused, sexually, I think you have to take it more seriously than that, and you should be careful about what you say, and you should mean what you say and think about what you say. It’s a dangerous thing, and that people do very dangerous things that cause themselves tremendous damage, that shouldn’t be trivialized[9].

 

To read a book like this as a reader is wonderful. You let the rhythm and beat of the language immerse you and pull you along. A lot of modernist writing, McBribe believes it is very difficult. You have to work hard for it and the pay off is worth while. But, the writers do not help you. McBride wanted to make the reading experience worth the reader’s while. That is why there is such poetry to the story telling. Why reading it as a writer is such an enjoyable experience.

A

s you read this book you are reading it as an enjoyable activity but your brain has these few branches of different ways of thinking about the book as you read it. Questions form and take shape as you get pulled along the trajectory of story telling. How is the writer doing this to me? How is she making me care so deeply about these people? These strangers whom I have never met in the flesh? How does the writer know so much about this particular situation or character? Did she study it? Come across the content in dreams or through inspiration. Is the references to certain imagery deliberate and imply knowledge into the deeper meaning of the overall story. How does McBride know so much about this religion that’s portrayed through the text.

 

This religion known as The Charasmatics, were very popular in Ireland in the 1980’s[10]. They would meet in living rooms and speak in tongues and they claimed more power to the people. But, it was the same sort of power found in most religions. Faith is a strange and powerful thing but when it becomes manic there is a danger there and this is explored through the girl’s mother. The description of the meetings at the mother’s house encapsulate the reverent madness of the faith. They gather in her mother’s sitting room every Thursday at 6 o’clock pm.

 

On page 28: ‘Good for them they like god and jesus best. That’s what they come here to say and do. There’s in their bags holy books and books of it. I picked up this one. I’ll lend you that. Now you take this I read it and thought of you. Hold out their palms out and let the spirit in. To save them and to set them free.’

 

Free for what? To fear god and pin all their hopes on him and endeavor to return to him as clean as when they first entered this world. Do they not understand the impossibility of such a notion? If you can never step into the same river twice what hope have you got of getting to heaven as pure as you first left? You can never go home. You are not the same from one day to the next. Life equals progress whether you are aware of it or not. Christian faith can appear as an antidote to depression. The forgiveness inherent in redemption condences death and resurrection and presents itself as one of the most interesting and innovative instances of trinitary logic[11]. Could it be the fact that religion and the god concept claim to have everything worked out, what makes it an untrustworthy idea?

 

When a teenager and being raised is a house of Mormon faith, it was told time and time again that doubt was a destroying agent. That those who critically think are doomed to a life of empty and godless shadow. This is why reading as a writer is such an exilarating exercise. It allows what comes naturally to a person like myself, the deep critical appraisal of word and their many functions, affects and designs. Being told that you think too much is not an insult when looked at from this perspective.

 

Reading this book as a reader involved reading it twice. Is that considered cheating? The second time was more difficult because the emotional implications of what was happening in the book, was much more salient. You read it and felt the emotions at the same time. It was difficult and involved a great many moments of tearful sobs and utter despairing for the girl. It was so very worth the effort.

 

It is like being on a hike with a heavy pack on your back. It hurts and there are aches and pains deep within your muscles but when you get to the cliff edge and the sun is setting and you have taken of you pack and simply resting. The view and all the infinite possibilities are there in front of your eyes and buzzing with the frenzy of vibration grey matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] R. Koval, By The Book: A Readers Guide To Life, 1st edn, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2012, pp. 225- 227.

[2] Ibid, pp. 226.

[3] Ibid, pp. 229.

[4] R. Koval, Transcript: Eimear McBride in conversation with Ramona Koval, The Monthly, Vol 98, 2014.

 

[5] Eimear McBride, A Girl Is A Half- Formed Thing, 1st edn, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2013, pp. 136- 137.

[6] Helene Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa. Signs. Vol. 1, No. 4, 1976, p. 875-893.

 

 

[7] R. Koval, Transcript: Eimear McBride in conversation with Ramona Koval, The Monthly, Vol 98, 2014.

[8]Eimear McBride, A Girl Is A Half- Formed Thing, 1st edn, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2013.

[9] R. Koval, Transcript: Eimear McBride in conversation with Ramona Koval, The Monthly, Vol 98, 2014.

[10] R. Koval, Transcript: Eimear McBride in conversation with Ramona Koval, The Monthly, Vol 98, 2014.

[11] J. Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression And Meloncholia, Columbia University Press, New York, 1989, pp. 134- 135.

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