I was due a fall. I have been on an unprecedented run of late. Of the 156 books I’ve read since 2013 I have not rated a single book 1 star (at least on Goodreads). Of those 156, only 13 were 2 star books. Which means 83% of the books I’ve read I’ve rated 3 stars or above. That’s insane! I’ve been on a roll of good, enjoyable books – even when they are emotionally draining. But that all ended with A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. The very conceit of this work – first person stream of consciousness across a lifetime – simply broke me.
Your personal opinion of the book (and I admit right now that some of you might read this and LOVE it) will depend on if the writing style works for you. For me, well, it drove me up a wall. Reading this book felt like a punishment. I felt as though I were experiencing the literary equivalent of hearing nails on a chalkboard. The narrative structure left the meaning so vague and the sentences so misconstrued that I was literally more frustrated at the writing than interested in the story. The entire work is written in fragments which caused me to either have to reread, or far more often just skim, because (surprise surprise) meaning is lost when you dispense with grammar and half the words you need to say something. Shocking, I know.
Honestly, if I hadn’t read the back of the book I would have had zero clue as to the plot of the book was intended to be, that is how far removed the words on the page were from giving me meaning. Now, I probably should have known that I was in for a rough go, for while this is a multiple award winning book it was first published by Galley Beggar Press which is a company specifically set-up to act as a sponsor to writers who have struggled to either find or retain a publisher, and whose writing shows great ambition and literary merit. I have to admit McBride certainly had great ambition. And McBride clearly shows craft in this work. I think my actual problem is that all I saw was her technique. I didn’t experience her storytelling. What I did see was someone having more fun with pulling the language apart and making points with what was missing. But I couldn’t make myself care.
Sure, some would say that it’s a brave author who chooses to ignore the normal conventions of written English. And it is brave, but is it wise? Because if some poor fool rewrote this work in proper English I’m pretty sure I still wouldn’t find the plot or the characters interesting in any way. This means that in this work we have a structure that is indecipherable and a plot that did not hold my interest, which dear reader is why I did not finish this book and I do not feel bad about it.
Here… this is how I should have known this wasn’t the book for me if I had looked a little closer at the reviews on Goodreads:
I want to give it 6 stars. It’s just better than anything I’ve ever read, with the exception of Beloved by Toni Morrison. – Emma Flaim
I hated Beloved.