A fresh, emotionally raw debut from Irish-born, U.K.–based author McBride.
Written in halting sentences, half-sentences and dangling clauses that tumble through the text like fleeting, undigested thoughts, the story follows the female narrator as she navigates an abusive upbringing—physical, sexual and psychological—and the lingering effects of her brother’s early childhood brain trauma. McBride opens with the young narrator in the hospital with her mother and brother, who is undergoing surgery (“You white-faced feel the needle go in. Feel fat juicy poison poison young boy skin. In your arteries. Eyeballs. Spine hands legs. Puke it cells up all day long. No Mammy don’t let them”). From there, the author follows her protagonist through her confused, angry adolescence, which is exacerbated by her mother’s piercing Irish-Catholic piety, and examines her struggle between appeasing her family and developing her own identity. Though the structure and events are roughly chronological and conventional—childhood; adolescence and experimentation with sex, drugs and alcohol; further confusing and liberating experiences in college; the deaths of loved ones—the style is anything but. McBride calls to mind both Joyce and Stein in her syntax and mechanics, but she brings her own emotional range to the table, as well. As readers, we burrow deep within the narrator’s brain as she battles to mature into a well-balanced adult amid her chaotic surroundings. In an uncomfortable but always eye-opening tale, McBride investigates the tensions among family, love, sex and religion. Lovers of straightforward storytelling will shirk, but open-minded readers (specifically those not put off by the unusual language structure) will be surprised, moved and awed by this original novel.
McBride’s debut garnered the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize in 2013 and the Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction in 2014—and deservedly so. This is exhilarating fiction from a voice to watch.