Author Eimear McBride has caused a bit more than a stir in the literary community with her debut novel.
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing has won her comparisons to James Joyce and whisperings of the word genius are even floating in her direction. And it’s more than just talk.
Last month she was being feted at the prestigious Sydney Writers’ Festival and won the 2014 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction for her first novel.
“It took me nine years to get it published,” she told the Irish Echo.
“I had a lot of very nice rejection letters which admired the book but didn’t feel they were willing to take the risk on publishing something that they didn’t see falling into the usual niches.”
A decade ago McBride wrote the book over a period of six months. It tells the painful story of a young girl growing up in a small Irish community in the west with the long shadow of her brother’s childhood brain tumour hanging over her family. She is raped by an uncle as a young teenager and living within the orbit of her mother’s devotion to the Catholic Church.
McBride herself grew up in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo. She was born to Northern Irish parents in Liverpool and her family arrived in the town when her father got a job in the Cloonamahon centre outside Collooney. It was a difficult time for McBride and she describes the town as quite a closed place and not particularly welcoming.
“It was small town Ireland and it was quite a difficult place to grow up in if you didn’t come from there for generations back,” she said.
“My family were quickly labelled as blow ins when we moved. I suppose my parents were from the North, we weren’t from there and we were always treated that way.
“When I was 14 I moved to Castlebar and that was actually much easier.”
When writing the book McBride was very aware of the parallels in the story she wanted to tell to her own life. Her brother Donagh died of a brain tumour when he was 28 and she found Catholicism oppressive and very invasive during her childhood.
She initially set out not to write about her brother’s illness because the danger of the book becoming memoir was quite strong. But essentially she found it became the only story she could write.
“Obviously when you are writing a novel and a first novel people always presume that everything in it is autobiographical,” she said
“You know that people will think that because some of the aspects of the book were very close to my own life. I knew that risk was high.”
McBride has been very pleased by the responses that she has elicited from readers: running the gamut from people who absolutely love it those it just annoys terribly.
The book does away with commas entirely and it employs an unusual style that explores the part of life that can’t be readily described in straight-forward language.
Her family are delighted to see her succeed after so many years and there was one person’s impending reaction that left her feeling nervous: her mum.
“I think she found it really beautiful,” she said. “It was very nerve wracking to send it to her the first time but she loved it.
“It’s difficult to send a book that has such explicit subject matter for you mother to read.”
McBride was one of four Irish writers making a series of appearances at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May. The others were Emma Donoghue, John Connolly and Adrian McKinty.