Book Review: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

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“A Girl is a Half-formed Thing” by Eimear McBride

I could give this book a one star or a five star rating, so I’ve compromised and given it three stars, and alternative reviews.

One star review:
What an infuriating, depressing story, told in an almost unreadable, fake Joycean voice. It contains no names (except perhaps the name of a doctor?), no commas, no dates and no place names. The reader can work around these things, and, with a great deal of persistence, follow the fairly straightforward plot line. It tells mainly of the dynamics within a family in small-town Ireland, principally the relationship between the girl, her brother who is treated for a brain tumour at birth and grows up with learning difficulties, and their religion obsessed mother. The father disappears from the scene early on. From this depressing, claustrophobic start, things just get worse. The girl is raped (or is she?) by her uncle in her early teens, but then becomes obsessed with him. The brother is bullied at school and later develops another brain tumour. The mother falls victim to reborn Christians. The claustrophobic atmosphere of Ireland becomes even more cloying. The girl goes off to the big city and engages in more sex than you would think could be fit into a normal life. For a girl who has so much unprotected sex, it is astounding that there is no mention of pregnancy or STDs. Maybe the author thought that would be just too depressing, given the total misery of the rest of the book. The last book I read that made me want to have a long, hot shower afterwards was “Praise” by Andrew McGahern. This book made me feel like I needed a week of long, hot showers.

Five star review:
Original, gripping, earthy and with an astonishingly original use of language, this book is ground-breaking. Eimear McBride said that reading Ulysses changed her life, and it clearly set her off on a totally new direction in novel writing. Without using names, locations, commas or dates, she still manages to take us right inside the claustrophobic life of small-town Ireland. It is a shocking tale of how a girl goes completely off the rails. Her father is absent, her mother is church-obsessed, her brother is brain-damaged, her uncle abuses her. Her way out is through sex and alcohol. She is set on a path of self-destruction and achieves it. This is not a light read, nor an enjoyable one, but it is a book that will stay with you long after you have put it down.

Review on Goodreads

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2016

Mike Ladd launches Garron Publishing’s series, ‘Southern-Land Poets 2016’

Rochford Street Review

Garron Publishing’s series, Southern- Land Poets2016 was launched by Mike Ladd on 6 October at the Halifax Café, 187 Halifax St., Adelaide, SA.

mikeladd-enhanced Mike Ladd launches the Southern-Land Poets 2016. photography by Rob Walker, 2016.

Garron Publishing is the creation of Gary MacRae and Sharon Kernot. Their Southern-Land Poets series, featuring contemporary South Australian poets, is now up to its twentieth chapbook. It’s a nice format. Having only twenty-two pages tends to focus the minds of the poets on finding a theme and keeping the selection tight.

alisonflett-enhanced Alison Flett reads from Vessel. photograph by Rob Walker, 2016.

The Garron tradition is that each chapbook has a title poem, so let’s start with Alison Flett’s Vessel and other poems. The title poem is a knockout and it’s great to see long-form poetry getting a run here. ‘Vessel’ is a highly visual poem, incorporating multiple reflections and…

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Parking the Bus

parking-the-bus

To park the bus –  metaphor – to play very defensively, to get a lot of players behind the ball, to have no attacking play, to make it almost impossible for the opposition to score, as if a bus  is parked in front of the goal. Tactic attributed to José Mourinho when manager of Chelsea.

PARKING THE BUS

For José. After Henry Reed

To-day we have parking the bus. Yesterday,

We had conning the ref. And tomorrow morning,

We shall have how to waste time. But to-day,

To-day we have parking the bus: the scent of liniment

Sweat and fresh-mown grass drifts across the pitch,

And to-day we have parking the bus.

This is the ankle breaking tackle. And this

Is the studs up tackle, whose use you will see,

When you are given your boots. And this is the offside trap,

Which in your case you have not got. The coaches

pace on the touchline with their frowns and foul language,

Which in our case we have not got.

This is the goal line clearance, which is always performed

With an easy flick of the foot. And please do not let me

See anyone using his hand. You can do it quite easy

If you have any strength in your foot. The injured

Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see

Any of them using their hands.

And this you can see is the dive. The purpose of this

Is to fool the ref, as you see. We can dive

Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this

drawing the foul. And rapidly backwards and forwards

The forwards plummet and the midfielders plunge:

They call it drawing the foul.

They call it drawing the foul: it is perfectly easy

If you have any strength in your foot: like the shirt pull,

And the high tackle, and the shoulder charge, and the trip,

Which in our case we have not got; and the physios

with their magic spray, and the balls going backwards and forwards,

For to-day we have parking the bus.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2016

Promotion

Promotion

For the second time this week the corpse of a possum hangs from the Stobie pole out the front of my house. I call the power company to come and take it down. The power man arrives with his cherry picker, rubber gloves, boots, ladder and overalls. He stands, looking up at the corpse suspended between pole and wire. “Second this week” I say. “He nearly made it”, he says, “just touched his tail on the wire, shorted himself out; still, only a possum eh?”.“Yeah”, I say, “only a possum on his way to run all over my bloody roof when I’m trying to sleep”. That night, a replacement possum stomps above my head at two a.m., promoted from the ranks to front line service.

 

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2016

Garron Publishing Southern-Land Poets Series Launch

A review by the lovely Julie Birch of the launch, last night, of the Garron Publishing chapbooks of 2016.

J V Birch

Last night was the launch of the Southern-Land Spring series from Garron Publishing at the Halifax Café.  And the place was bursting at the seams, with people flocking to hear the latest work from some fantastic poets – Mike Hopkins, Alison Flett, Steve Brock, Judy Dally and Louise McKenna.

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MC’d by Gary MacRae from Garron Publishing with Sharon Kernot on book sales, which incidentally went like hot cakes, Mike Ladd introduced the line-up, another outstanding local poet.

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First to read was Mike from his ingeniously titled Selfish Bastards and other poems, a collection described as a ‘parody of parodies’ and so naturally Mike read the title poem, which required audience participation.  My favourite line has to be ‘Poets at poetry readings who go over time with their boring bloody confessional poems about their boring bloody tragic lives – Selfish Bastards!’ (shouted by the audience). …

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Book Review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The VegetarianThe Vegetarian by Han Kang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

*Spoiler alert* – describes elements of the plot of the novel.

Despite the title, this is a novel, not a cookbook, and it is not so much about a vegetarian as about a woman with severe anorexia and mental illness. The book won the Man Booker International prize 2016. The author, Han Kang is from Gwangju, South Korea. The translation from Korean is by Deborah Smith.

To me, the book is somewhat cold and dispassionate. I never really felt involved with any of the characters. The story is told in three parts. The first part tells of Yeong-hye’s loveless marriage to an autocratic, chauvinist husband, Mr. Cheong, and her decision to become vegetarian. The decision sets off a series of destructive events involving her husband, her parents, her sister and her brother-in-law. It would seem that vegetarianism has a long way to go towards being accepted in Korea. The second part takes us into the sister’s marriage, and the brother in law’s artistic obsession. This section climaxes in the full breakdown of relationships. The third section looks at Yeong-hye’s mental illness and descent into physical and mental breakdown.

Some of the coldness of the book may come from it being translated from Korean. I’m not doubting the translator’s skill, but it may be that there are more subtleties and more colour in the original. Or maybe not. The book describes a still highly paternalistic society. Yeong-hye’s anorexia is clearly a reaction to her upbringing, her oppressive marriage and the rigidity of Korean society.

This is not an enjoyable book and I am not sure I would have picked it as a major prize winner. The writing is, to me, a bit heavy-handed, and the plot, at times, stretches credulity. It does however provide interesting insights into a paternalistic society and the mind of an anorexic.

View all my reviews