Nine years after it was first rejected by publishers for being too experimental, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, the debut novel by Irish author Eimear McBride, has been shortlisted today for a prestigious new literary prize that specifically rewards innovation.
The other five shortlisted titles for the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize, out of 123 submitted, are Man Booker Prize favourite Harvest by Jim Crace; Red or Dead by David Peace; Artful by Ali Smith; Exodus by Lars Iyer; and Tapestry by Philip Terry.
The annual prize of £10,000 is for “fiction that breaks the mould and opens up new possibilities for the novel form ... a book that is genuinely novel, and which embodies the spirit of invention that characterises the genre at its best”.
McBride’s novel, published by Galley Beggar Press, certainly fits the bill. While the themes may be familiar – emigration, family, religion – it is written in a stream of consciousness style that eschews grammar and prepositions. Narrated by the unnamed “Girl”, it is the story of her dysfunctional family life, with a violent mother, a father who abandons her, an unwell brother and predatory uncle.
McBride was born in Liverpool to Irish parents, before moving with her family at the age of 14 first to Sligo, and then to Mayo. At 17, she left for London, and now lives with her husband and daughter in Norwich, which is where she found her small. local publisher.
Sinéad Gleeson, who interviewed the author earlier this year in The Irish Times and reviews the novel in this Saturday’s Weekend Review, described it as “exceptional” and the author’s voice as “utterly compelling and unique ... McBride stands out among her contemporaries because of the extraordinary risks she takes with language.”
Author Nicola Barker, one of the judges, said of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing: “Imagine being repeatedly slapped in the face, only quite lightly to begin with, by a delicate little hand wearing a large and ornate signet ring. You want to turn away, to lash out, to resist, but the little hand is so dogged, so persistent, and the ring has caught your eye, somehow, and you just want to study it, to focus in on it, because you know that it is strange and special and very beautiful. But as the little hand continues to slap it becomes more painful and your cheeks gradually start to sting and to redden. Is it a pleasurable feeling? No. Well, yes. Is it startling? Certainly. And afterwards? When it’s all finally over? The devastating bruises, spreading and flowering across your flesh in their terrible palate of blue, green, black, purple...
“A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is at once the slap and the gasp after the slap. It is, in a single word, breathtaking.”
The Goldsmiths Prize winner will be announced on November 13th.