1976- ; b. Liverpool, of Northern Irish Catholic parents; dg. of psychiatric nurses, one of four (three boys); her family moved to Ireland when she was 2, at first to Tubercurry, Co. Sligo before moving to Castlebar, Co. Mayo at 14; she lost her father at 8; studied at Drama Centre, London [aka Trauma Centre], aetat 17 - where the training was brutal, invasive and not particularly careful of the human); lost her br. Donagh, to effects of infantile brain-tumour, when she was 22; lived in London in her mid-twenties;
wrote A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (2013), a novel written 13 years earlier about her family history from the age of five embracing family death and abuse; publ. by Galley Beggar Press, Norwich and became an astronomical success - counted as moving, funny, and alarming; winner of 2014 Baileys Award for Women's Fiction [formerly Orange]; also won The Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year 2014, Desmond Elliot Prize, and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; McBride was called a genius by Anne Enright (Guardian, 2013);
also issued The Lesser Bohemians, (2016), set in the 1990s, about a young drama-student Eily’s relationship with Stephen, an older actor with a disturbing past involving incest and drug-abuse - called a love-story; uses the same interior style as A Girl; married to theatre director William Galinsky; theatre-director and lately director of Cork Summer Festival, 2006; moved from Ireland to Norwich, 2011; has a daughter with her husband.
story incl. in Wedlock [Galley Beggar Singles] (Galley Beggar 2013), with others by Eliza Lynn Linton, Hugh Stutfield and George Egerton.
How James Joyce’s Dubliners heralded the urban era, in New Statesman (14 June 2014) - see extract.
McGuinnesss story of salvation [...] in Donegal, review of Arimathea by Frank McGuinness, in The Guardian (Sat., 9 Nov. 2013) [see under McGuinness > Commentary - as infra.]
See also Idioglossia, in Granta [Irish Writing Issue], 135 (Spring 2016) - online.
A Girl is a Half-formed Thing was adapted for the stage by Annie Ryan, with Aoife Duffin in the lead; The Lowry Th., Salford Quays; supported by Culture Ireland, Cursak Projects Lrd., and Corn Exchange; Thurs 4- Sat. 6 eb. 2016.
[ See Eimar McBride, your questions answered on sex, acting and self-publishing - webchat at The Guardian (20 Sept. 2017) - online.]
Commentary Anne Enright, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing [review], in The Guardian (20 Sept. 2013): [...] Eimear McBride is that old fashioned thing, a genius, in that she writes truth-spilling, uncompromising and brilliant prose that can be, on occasion, quite hard to read. Here, for example, are the opening lines: For you. Youll soon. Youll give her name. In the stitches of her skin shell wear your say. If this kind of thing bores or frightens you, then there are many other wonderful books out there for you to enjoy. [...] The adventurous reader, however, will find that they have a real book on their hands, a live one, a book that is not like any other. [...] There are moments when you long for the style to settle down, or evolve; the prose at 18 is just as broken as it was at five. But the style is also direct, simple and free of intertextual tricks and, after a while, the language becomes its own kind of object. The narrator is better at hearing things than telling them: there are riffs of reported speech and scraps of banter, and these are put to virtuoso use in building scenes and describing action. There is also, surprisingly, a strong storyline when, at the grandfathers funeral, what seemed aimless becomes completely gripping. This book is hard to read for the best reasons: everything about it is intense and difficult and hard-won. / The result is an instant classic - an account of Irish girlhood to be set alongside OBriens The Country Girls for emotional accuracy and verve, and the sense of its overwhelming necessity. A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is completely modern in its sensibility and completely old-fashioned in the way it triumphantly ignores the needs of the book market. It took nine years, apparently, to find a publisher. Who forgot to tell Eimear McBride about the crisis we are in and about the solution to that crisis: compromise, dumb down, sell your soul?
Further: A ranting, Catholic mother, a disabled brother and a pervy uncle: these may be bog-gothic standards of any Irish book season, but McBride brings passion and and distance with the voice of her highly dissociated protagonist, whose name we never get to hear. The you of the book is her older brother, whose brain was damaged by the removal of a tumour in infancy, and the love she has for him is a clean space in a soiled world. She imagines a strange underground, pre-sexual life for them together, In burrows rabbits safe from rain … You and only me. The brothers condition makes him both cause and cure of all her guilt – and this is a novel soaked in guilt. [...] The narrators mother is deeply troubled and her childhood both chaotic and cruel. Puberty brings a power that is scarcely hers to control. After a sexual encounter with an uncle, she becomes that figure much loved by male fiction writers – the girl of uncertain background who lifts her skirt at school. The events of the book are simple and not so much described as powerfully evoked. Her grandfather dies, her brothers life goes downhill. Meanwhile, our heroine goes to college and pursues a career of shame and abandonment, seeking damage and defilement in a trail of sexual encounters that are anonymous, aimless and finally, horribly masochistic. The answer to every single question is Fuck. Drink may be involved, but the way the narrator inhabits – or fails to inhabit – her own account feels more French than Irish. Marguerite Duras and Catherine Millet come to mind as much as Sean OReilly or Edna OBrien. She is affectless and highly transgressive – in her attraction to an older man, in her need to become a debased object; to break through pleasure and protect herself from the disaster that is desire. [...] an instant classic – anaccount of Irish girlhood to be set alongside OBriens The Country Girls for emotional accuracy and verve, andthe sense of its overwhelming necessity. Also quotes opening: For you. Youll soon. Youll give her name. In the stitches of her skin shell wear your say. (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, Criticism > Reviews, via index, or as attached.)
Lara Feigel, The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride review – a brilliant evocation of sex and intimacy, in The Guardian (25 Sept. 2016): Reading the opening pages of The Lesser Bohemians, I wondered if I might still be in the world of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. Here was a diffident 18-year-old Irish girl talking, writing or thinking in Eimear McBride’s characteristic broken sentences, gliding between the demotic and the lyrical. Daub my soul with a good few pints til my mouth swings wide with unutterable shite. Laughing lots too, like it’s true. Worldening maybe, I think. I hope. I felt anxious that the voice that had seemed to be created for the heroine of A Girl had suddenly become the voice of an apparently different character, and that we were expected to accept this and read these sentences as though for the first time. / In fact, McBride’s style is more capacious than it might seem. The voice here is different, though it takes a couple of chapters to feel your way into its cadences. The girl whose head we are in now is more eagerly poetic, more gently amused, more responsive to the sights around her. This is Eily, a young drama student new to the London of the 1990s and determined to lose her virginity as quickly and decorously as possible. [...] McBride manages to get across the essential strangeness of sex itself: the disjunction between the triviality and repetition of the physical acts and the intense, high emotion with which we can experience them; the way that within a single encounter we can go from being just bodies, doing odd things to each other, to minds, urgently expressing love, without it being easy to define what has shifted. [...] The Lesser Bohemians confirms McBride’s status as one of our major novelists. (Available online.)
Publishers Weekly / PW (Sept. 2016): McBride’s second novel is more ambitious than her acclaimed debut, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, and it retains the uncompromisingly Joycean brogue and diary-like intimations of adolescence that made that first novel such a success. Set between 1994 and 1995, it follows 18-year-old Eily, a boozy ingénue, as she leaves her native Ireland to attend drama school in London. There, caught in whirl of excess and the shadow of IRA terrorism, she is mostly assigned stereotypically Irish bit parts, but finds herself captivated by a much older actor named Stephen, an ex-junkie estranged from his family and young daughter. Initially meeting without names, they embark on a tempestuous relationship that reveals the worst in both while offering Stephen a chance at redemption and Eily a future. But the real focus is McBride’s stream-of-consciousness prose, in which drinking is rendered as pints turning telescope, the lightless hall sings sanctuary from the frenzy of a violent encounter, and a night of youthful debauchery leaves the revelers with Satan under every skin. Skinful under all our skin. The story (especially when Stephen’s backstory hijacks the narrative) isn’t full enough to sustain McBride’s style, which comes to seem less and less an accurate shorthand for first love. Still, this sophomore effort is striking enough to continue McBride’s forging of a daring career. (Available online; accessed 3.09.2016.)
Jacqueline Rose, From the Inside out, [review of The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride], in London Review of Books (22 Sept. 2016): When Eimear McBride burst onto the literary scene in 2013 with her first published novel, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, she proudly trailed James Joyce in her wake, claiming her allegiance to a European modernism which some have argued, wrongly I would say, has been betrayed by most of today’s fiction, in the UK at least (as if literature had prematurely taken the path of Brexit). McBride has stated firmly that she wishes to be considered a European writer: ‘I’d like to set up my stall as a European writer … I probably belong in the diaspora set because I only have clarity from a distance.’ At the same time, speaking about this extraordinary second novel, The Lesser Bohemians, she has lamented the dearth – even in the modernist tradition she rejoins and celebrates – of anything approaching an adequate exploration of the perils and pleasures of sex. The lack is especially glaring in relation to women. Only when she read Edna O’Brien did she understand that ‘there was a part of women’s lives that had been absent in everything I had read.’ ‘Bored’ (her word) with the way sex is mostly written about, she has now given us two novels in which language falls apart under the pressure of sex. And violence. After all, sex and violence are two experiences that tend to leave people lost for words (Hannah Arendt described violence as ‘mute’). In McBride’s hands, they re-find their natural affinity, together precipitating a crisis of speech. She is the writer of sexual abuse, now recognised as one of the hallmarks of the new century. / In The Lesser Bohemians, the clue is planted early. [...]
McBride has said that her aim in her novels is ‘to go in as close as the reader would reasonably permit’ – a perfect aesthetic formula for the sexual problem that haunts her book. In a rare distancing from Joyce, she describes Finnegans Wake, alongside Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans, as ‘obscure’ and ‘obtuse’ for the non-specialist reader (‘kamikaze missions’). Instead, she uses the simplest vocabulary in the hope that this will allow readers to make the complexities of the syntax their own as if the narrative was running inside their minds: ‘from the inside out rather than the outside in’. Wherever she chooses to go next, it is, then, hardly surprising that abuse, incest, passion have been her themes to date. In each case, closeness is the burning issue: whether desired, killing, too little or too much. Aesthetic form and story are twinned. ‘Fright,’ Eily says when things are going badly, ‘goes everywhere like losing blood.’ Sometimes it seems that, as a writer, McBride is chasing her own fear. Without ever passing judgment, The Lesser Bohemians situates itself at that point of moral, sexual and grammatical uncertainty where, in Eily’s words again, ‘pure is indivisible from its reverse.’ For me it is the ability to delve so deeply into all of this, more or less regardless, that makes for the unique talent– the wilful, sensuous generosity – of Eimear McBride. [Not that much of the review - here omitted - deals in detail with the sexual experience of the character, especially Stephen who recounts his seduction by his mother as a boy.] (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, Criticism > Reviews, via index, or as attached.)
See here this party. It’s a mad. I had never been. I have only seen and thought films were like that. Music hurting on the innards. Door. Lungs. People pouring noise out front back of this old house. Some glasses beakers. I have cans. In my bag. Where do I? Out them there no don’t put down or they’ll go you’ll be sorry. Money spent. I trup trup off behind her. Think I’m new and white. In the garden. In the wet. For grass still sucks it up all day. Where’s this? Just some fella I know she says. He said come and bring a friend. Him and other lads have this band. Oh. Brilliant. Good too. They squat here. Christ. What do I know? What do I know? People living mad life but I’m around it now. I can be in. I’m. What I’d say to those girls in school if. No. I won’t. Won’t be going back in there. I’m going just to say hello she says you stay here. And I sit under this tree while. What type’s it? Apple. Mortified at being alone. Drink up. Watch. She seeing them. Says I’m black now am I? Well then give us a kiss. She slather their hands on. Blankets wet full mouth smirking aren’t you pleased to see me? She knows all the right stuff. Right things done said brings the. Going house in. What is perfect on this lawn, there is no shame. She. Looking over her shoulder. Roll her eyes. You know what it means. I’m going. Off. Nod. Laughing me and she’ll tell later on whatever he has done.
I am fine sit and drink and watch. All this harlotting go full on. Twist to look like I’m in here not just sitting by myself. Lay in the grass. Foots trodding dance around. See up skirts. In trousers. Music pumping ground under my head. I think some poems I’ll write. About. Sights. Remember. This wood smell of. Damp and. Dandelions stain on my bare leg. Sip up my. Sip and slurp it drink. Think of being by myself. Here. In this stranger’s downstairs flat. That. Whirl. Some fella coming up. Do you mind if I sit he and who are you then? Who are you? Do I know you no I do not. I turn my head is very slow and. Some strange man he is to me. Some man with black hair combed strange like balding but not. It seems. Will I talk at all I will. He chatting my name and all those things. I falling into that. Suppose I am here on my own. Will you another? Thanks for that. Will hear him tell me he’s how old a lot oh God lotter than me. I am addling but good to be seen. It’s very good to be seen.
Hello there and one of these. You want some? Smoke. Never do. But will. It’s something else. No I don’t know how. But. Go on lassy you inhale and hold. That’ll do. That Jesus rips the tender throat out. Jesus give the eyes a very stream. He is laughing with at me but about my whirring head. I don’t like. Do. He lie beside. Stick his fingers in my hair. Aren’t you a lovely lovely thing. And talking to he’s talking still. I curling poems cannot listen. Smoke in again and in again. Feels hours and hours him and me. Our heads on a root. Benutted tree I see London. I see France. I can see your underpants. I hear him singing put his hand between my knees. Go way think I’m laughing. Spin the brain away from here. Ha you’re tickling. Don’t do please. Come on says he come on time to go to bed. Time for us to be out of this fet air. Where we going? Come on o human child. I singing oky ho-ky do-ky. Ha ha help me down from this wet earth. I’ll come. I’ll. Now I’ll come with you.
How James Joyce’s Dubliners heralded the urban era, in New Statesman (14 June 2014)
[...] Whereas the Victorians were at pains to ensure that no reader was left in any doubt as to the fall-spot of their moral hammer, Joyce offers no authorial interjections. He does not consider his duty to the reader to extend beyond his engagingly mean facsimiles of Dublin life. Such a position leaves his characters free to shift for themselves and allows the reader to peer into their every thought and action, the only authorial expectation being that readers are fully capable of making up their own minds about what they then see. For me this is one of the great pleasures of the collection and, with its kicking out of the soapbox from beneath the foot of every writer since, it’s a significant benchmark in the growing-up process of 20th-century literature, too.
This year marks the centenary of Dubliners’ famously belated publication, raising the question: What meaning, if any, does it hold for us today? In a recent radio documentary Anne Enright remarked that the last paragraph of The Dead was responsible for more bad writing than any other in the tradition, a point difficult to disagree with. Its deep power abides in the inextricability of Joyce’s masterly control of language and the breadth of his vision. Like the opening of the King James Bible, the end of The Dead expresses mankind’s isolation elementally. Its many imitators tend to mistake this for a highly personal kind of pastoral poetry, leading to the unfortunate tradition of things being remembered poignantly in fields.
That Joyce monsters over all of Irish literature – and vast tracts of British and European, too – is not in any doubt. While this is mainly ascribed to the great door-opening that was A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man andUlysses, as well as the great door-slamming of Finnegans Wake, the lovely window that is Dubliners retains a special position in the psyche of Irish writers and readers. It has become the most approachable face of the city and its literature.
[...] Perhaps, once confronted by the real time consequences of their actions, these voters will remember what kind of country they truly want for themselves and their families. I must believe this is possible because I cannot bear the thought of what this self-indulging, self-deluding maniac will inflict upon us all if he is permitted to run riot across international diplomacy unopposed. [... &c.]
The Irish Times (10 Nov. 2016) - available online.
Eimear McBride in conversation with Jacqueline Rose (25. Jan. 2017)
[Note: The following report was been written by Joseph Brooker, Reader in Modern Literature at Birbeck Coll. (University of London). The paraphrase section, given below, has been slightly modified for RICORSO by the substitition of personal pronouns for the novelists name. The whole is given here by permission of Dr. Brooker. 27.01.2017.]
On 25th January 2017 the acclaimed novelist Eimear McBride came to Birkbeck for a public conversation with Professor Jacqueline Rose. One of the colleges largest lecture halls was filled by an audience keen to witness what was not just another book-tour stop but a notable meeting of minds, facilitated by a collaboration between Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities and the Centre for Contemporary Literature.
Various relations can exist between creative writers and the critics who read them – from incomprehension to symbiosis. My colleague Martin Eve, in his recent book Literature Against Criticism (2016), explores the ways in which recent fiction has competed with academic criticism for rhetorical sway over theoretical ideas. Yet Rose and McBride remind us of the possibility of a productive and sympathetic relation between artist and critic, as has often enough happened in the past – from Ruskin and Turner to Barthes and Robbe-Grillet. A particular critic can seem to be an artists ideal audience, or can take a particular role in paraphrasing the artists novelties and significance to a public; they might even, in a positive feedback loop, have a beneficial effect on the artists own understanding of what theyre doing. Rose was one of the first academics to speak in public on McBrides first novel A Girl is a Half Formed Thing (2013), before reviewing her second novel The Lesser Bohemians (2016). At this event Rose commenced by speaking of how McBrides work had affected her, and suggested that McBride was a writer she had been waiting for. (Presumably, on this model, one only fully discovers what one has been waiting for when it arrives.)
In their different ways, both writers traverse strongly related territory: gender, sex, violence, abuse; psychic and ideological structures of power (notably, in McBrides case, those of the Catholic Church); psychic troubles and breakdowns; and the way that all of these are enacted in language and literature. On the night, the discourses of Rose and McBride were slightly contrasting: one trading in eloquent long sentences, the other tending to brisk, down-to-earth replies. But a slight difference of idioms can be no bad thing, offering different ways of seeing and addressing the same issues. The conversation was neither narrowly academic in a way that excluded the language of creative writing, nor non-academic in a way that dismissed serious reflection, but a respectful, exploratory negotiation of ways of speaking about fiction. Here are a few specific, discrete moments from the conversation, roughly transcribed.
Rose: —This is the most terrifyingly anticipated second novel. McBride: —At least by me. Rose: —You are high-risk. McBride: —I do my best. Rose: —Youve taken modernism – Woolf, but especially Joyce – and added visceral sexuality. In Ulysses Gerty on the beach is quaint, Molly Bloom is lyrical: but you are the return of the repressed of modernism.
[ The following is a paraphrase of the remaining interview posted by Dr. Joseph Brooker. ]
• McBride wanted A Girl is a Half Formed Thing to be bodily, so there are no names or dates to get in the way: she tried to give the reader the most unmediated access possible to the girl. The reader shouldnt even be aware of her, the author.
• She read Joyces Ulysses on a train and it was a transformative experience: nothing would be the same again. With the writing that came from reading him, she couldnt get published – so it was all his fault. She admires Joyce not as a model to copy but for showing what was possible: a freedom with language.
• With The Lesser Bohemians, she wanted to show the Irish experience in London in the early 1990s – depicting not a negative immigrant experience in which the migrants all pine for home, but a positive one in which people have found a good life abroad.
• In creating characters, she draws on her experience at drama school: including the lesson that as an actor you cant just create a type, you must play a specific person.
• She describes the writing process of The Lesser Bohemians, across 7 drafts. Its very interesting to hear that she wrote the book as a realist novel, to be clear what was happening – then went in and changed it to make the initial dull prose more interesting. She suggests: The unconscious doesnt do a lot of rhyming – you have to revise for cadence.
• She describes seeing the stage version of her first novel, heavily abridged: It seemed like – heres a bad thing ... heres a worse thing ... and heres the worst thing of all – and thats the end. She reflects: It wasnt my book – it was parts of my book. Would she be interested in writing a play? I might be ... sure I might have a go.
Posted on Facebook by Joseph Brooker - 20.01.2017.
Notes Goldsmith gold: McBridge one the £10,000-inaugural Goldsmiths Prize in assoc. with Statesman for fiction that is genuinely novel with A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, a stream of consciousness novel, written in 2004, about a the title-characters relationship with her brother who suffered from a brain tumour in childhood, featuring a violent mother, an absent father and a predatory uncle who triggers her abuse-victim behaviour at school; published by Galley Beggar Press, Norwich; sold on to Coffee House Press for US release.