"I Am Not That Girl": Disturbance, Creativity, Play, Echoes, Liminality, Self-Reflection and Stream of Consciousness in Eimear McBride's A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing

By Wisker, Gina | Hecate, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

"I Am Not That Girl": Disturbance, Creativity, Play, Echoes, Liminality, Self-Reflection and Stream of Consciousness in Eimear McBride's A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing


Wisker, Gina, Hecate


A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is an unstoppable, seemingly inchoate, yet rhythmic, carefully formed and overwhelming outpouring. It is a non-memoir, non-autobiographical, first-person narrative, and its form of language is as captured in liminality as is the girl herself: unformed, becoming, caught. It is a coming-of-age novel concerned with becoming or attempting to become where the idea of "becoming woman" (Deleuze and Guattari, 251-52) is significant, in terms of finding self and identity in a social context of relative poverty, that of a broken family in the religious grip of an Irish small town. Here the unnamed girl, the second born, with a beloved brother who is brain- damaged at birth, pours out her response to life, trying to make some sense of it. The Irish village gives way to an English city, where she, the unnamed girl, is meant to be studying, but in which, in trying to be free and independent, she ends up even more caught in the trap of relationships of abuse, masquerading as liberation. These contexts, an English city, an Irish village, are contested and conflicting influences on her experience, and yet however transformed she is by her time in England, the girl never escapes her family, the expectations, the curtailments, the trauma. The Irish village context is shown as expecting women to be both extremely tough, but always subordinate; sexually available, yet constrained by the law of the father and religion. The novel pitches us as readers into her experiences of liminality; into the gap between what is felt and begins to form in the mind of the narrator, the girl, and her actions in the shared world. These are largely determined and partially understood as filtered through her consciousness, through the use of stream of consciousness. In this form, they are dominated by certain returning patterns but otherwise unstructured, unmanageable for her, and so also not structured for us, neither explained nor explained away. However, the language deliberately enacts this confusing experience while also representing much of it as normalised, as Kira Cochrane recognises in her review, noting the fracturing of thought processes and language:

The book has been described as difficult, because of its language; devoid of commas, a fractured, poetic, preconscious voice, pregnant with full stops and half rhymes, which McBride knew she had captured when she wrote the first lines: 'For you. You'll soon. You'll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she'll wear your say.' But it actually feels like language anyone could read and understand. Its subject matter is the real difficulty, the story of a young girl, struggling to deal with her older brother's illness-a brain tumour-and the abuse she experiences. (n.p.)

The pressure, confusion and emotions alternate between exhilaration, a need for space, confusion and trying to work out what should be done-and a headlong rush most often into headstrong, hurtful behaviour. Her thoughts come unfettered, unmanaged, as they do in our own inner thoughts but less usually in fiction; this technique emphasises how very managed fiction usually is, and how the structuring of fiction conveys a sense of control over identity and sense-making as well as individual narrative. Such control is lacking in the girl's life, mind, and story. The pressures on her are both characteristically Irish, affected by family, religion, self-worth, cultural expectations, and are also familiar for any young person- growing up, developing a sense of identity-but added to by the pressure of her relationship with her brother. She loves him dearly and throughout his life, since before her own birth even, she is defined by him. She rarely resents him, except in her coldest moments-once leaving him to the bullies-and she never recovers from his death

There is an attempt to escape the place, naming, family, the overwhelming constraint of each of these and of her gender, her sexuality. Irish and American reviewers focused on the Irishness of the novel, commenting on family and small town pressures, the influence of the Catholic church and guilt: they noted "a traditional Irish setting" and, also,

familiar fictional material: a departed father, a pious, abusive mother, an errant and blasphemous daughter, a predatory uncle, a death in the family, a God-soaked household busy with meddling priests and vain prayer. …

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