A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

I recently finished A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride. It took me a while to read it, but I really liked it.

This book doesn’t really have a plot as such. It’s about a young woman growing up, from childhood and until she’s about 20-ish. It’s about how her life and childhood is affected by her older brother’s brain tumour. He goes into remission when they’re both quite young, but he is affected by it, he struggles in school, and with work. The protagonist and her mother have to deal with this, and they’re not necessarily great at it.

The writing
The only times I really mention writing is when it stands out. This isn’t really written straight out. It’s written in first person and it’s written in a sort of stream-of-consciousness way. It was a little hard to follow along at times, but it was an interesting way to write.

It’s so dark, oh jikes.

Also I’ll refer to the protagonist as the Girl or the protagonist, because none of the characters have names.

Obviously it’s about a boy’s tumour and brain cancer so it’s not going to be cheerful, but it’s so dark. It’s written from the perspective of his younger sister, and how she deals with her brother’s illness and the effects it has on him.

She also deals with her own sexual, sort of awakening, and she lives in Ireland under this very puritanical way of life. And while I don't know much about Ireland, other than what I've seen in films/TV shows, read in books, it feels very Irish. There's a lot of Catholicism and prayer, and purity, and it just feels very Irish. Her mother is convinced by her father that she needs to thank god for her son’s life and she becomes sort of obsessively religious. And the Girl also deals with her own very warped view on sex and how she comes to sexual maturity, there’s some very creepy incest. It’s interesting to see the abuse through her eyes, because she is… I think 13, and she seems to see it as consensual and healthy, when it really isn’t. And it was incredibly horrible, and painful. It really frustrated her, which also frustrated me and made me feel very grossed out. It also really affects her sexual behaviour later in life.

She tends to use sex and sexualized violence to deal with, or get away from the problems in her life pertaining to her brother. And it was so heart breaking to read how her mother dealt with it. She would come home with bruises more than once, and her mother never really engages and sits her down and asks what happened, and if she needs help.

Her mother is just… awful. She’s not, really, her son is sick and a huge strain on her life, which is clearly horrifying, but it really pissed me off that she took out her anger and frustration on the protagonist. Especially near the end when the Girl moves home from university to help out her mother is just incredibly hurtful and awful. She is very suspect of why the Girl has come home and why she’s helping. And it made me want to cry for her, and I wanted to hug her and hold her tightly, and tell her that she was doing the right thing.

I really liked and got annoyed at the writing. I feel like it sometimes got in the way of the story because there were times I had to go back and reread to make sure that I knew what had actually happened. I don’t think it was perfectly done, necessarily, but it was a debut, so I’m willing to forgive her. It was confusing at times, which I think it has to be when it’s written like this. I also think it was sort of perfect in a way. It feels like the Girl is railing and shouting at you and screaming her pain out at the world. It’s like she’s crying and whispering to her brother and it’s like she’s trying to hide from her mother and at the same time trying to force her to see her. It was beautiful, and even though the writing was at times confusing and sort of in the way you just need to let it wash over you. It was great.

It also feels very real in that the writing is very reactive, so when people does or says something to the Girl you get her very honest, unfiltered reaction right away. And it felt very honest and real, so I really liked the writing in that way. 


It was tough, and it was painful, and I wanted to hug her and hold her, but the Girl was amazing. She was so deeply flawed, and she was so alone and she seemed so scared. And she was crying out for help, and it was so great. It’s dark, and it’s difficult, but I thought it was worth it.