Review: A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing, by Eimear McBride

a girl is a half formed thing eimear mcbrideRating: ★★★★☆

Genres: Literary Fiction


A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is a story of a young woman whose brother has survived a brain tumor, and now tries to navigate through life knowing he is different and less intelligent than others. It explores what it’s like to be a girl completely on her own, facing religious struggles, suffering trauma and just trying to cope but finding yourself always going back to the unhealthy behaviors that help you forget.

First of all, this book has quite serious trigger warnings – I am listing all of those I could remember down below and unfortunately reading them includes spoilers, but I would not advise a reader to go into this book without knowing that you’re in for an emotional, brutal ride. If you are sensitive to some topics, check the TWs below before picking it up, ESPECIALLY if you’re a sexual assault/rape survivor.

Second of all, you’re going to need more time for this book than you think – it’s probably the most difficult book I’ve ever read and it took me days to go through Chapter 1 (in defense of the book, it gets easier to read after that). The fragmented sentences were specially difficult, and also the fact that dialogue is not very clear – you’re sometimes not entirely sure where it starts, where it ends, who’s speaking. I kept picturing the words on the pages being said in whispers, sometimes quieter and slow, almost pleasant, sometimes urgent and angry. The entire novel is quiet but raw, and watching the main character fall deeper and deeper into a self-harming pattern breaks your heart. I think the book is written this way to represent the main character’s confused, half-formed thoughts (ha, see what I did there), and that is done in such an excellent way.

I am not entirely sure how I feel about this book, and I am curious to see how it is in audiobook, since the sentences have a certain rythm (I know Hannah read it in audio and really liked it, whereas Rachel tried the audio but switched to print. Also check out the brilliant reviews by Callum), whether it’s easier or more difficult to follow that way. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing demanded lots of concentration and effort. I can’t help but feel that my constant state of trying to decipher what the sentences meant took a bit of the emotional connection away, but it did not stop me from being destroyed by it. It’s a book that deeply hurts throughout and then leaves you stunned at the end.

On an interesting note for me, this was the winner of the Women’s Prize from 2014, and it’s hard not to compare to the longlist of 2019, which I read and cannot think of a single book, except for Milkman, which does linguistically what this one does. Both these books make the other ones look less like literary fiction, honestly (and some of those weren’t, in my opinion, particularly literary). There are other aspects in which both books felt similar to me, so I’d say – if you liked Milkman but you want to be even more sad, read this one!

Trigger Warnings: sexual abuse, pedophilia, bullying, rape, suicide, oppression through religion, death, grief, self-harm.

3 thoughts on “Review: A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing, by Eimear McBride

  1. Wonderful review. 🙂 I did go back and listen to the first few chapters on audio after reading in print, just to see how they compared, and while I would not have been able to make it through the whole book that way the first time around, it was striking to listen to. I also love that you mention reading different parts in different tones/volumes- whispering vs angry, etc. I felt the same, and thought it was so impressive for the writing to have that effect when the language and structure is more or less uniform.

    Ultimately, a gutting book, but so, so very remarkable.


  2. Excellent review! I know you were struggling with this one for a while so I’m glad you felt like sticking with it was worthwhile. It’s absolutely a difficult one, but so rewarding. And I loved what you said about the conversations feeling like whispers, because I hadn’t noticed that that’s also what I was picturing when reading them.


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