The follow-up to A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing (2014), the author’s groundbreaking, award-winning debut novel.
It’s 1994 in London, and McBride’s narrator, 18-year-old Eily, arrives from Ireland to begin drama school. Wide-eyed and awed by the city and all its cacophonous activity, she soon meets an older actor in a bar (reading “his Penguin Dostoyevsky”) and embarks on a torrid—and increasingly tumultuous—love affair with him. Though he's 20 years her senior, it’s clear that he doesn’t necessarily have it all figured out; as the narrative progresses, we learn more about his skeleton-filled closet, details that help partially explain his erratic behavior. Most of the novel consists of Eily’s pulsing, fractured thoughts concerning her psychosexual awakening, though her lover’s lengthy disclosure of his past demons throws the narrative somewhat off-balance. Many of the trademarks of McBride’s first novel are present here—intense first-person interiority (details about the narrator’s surroundings are largely absent; for the majority of the book, readers are inside the occasionally claustrophobic confines of Eily’s head); halting, Joycean sentence construction; passionate, urgent descriptions of conflicting emotions—and fans should enjoy this one. However, it’s not likely to win the author many new readers. While A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing masterfully captured the narrator’s mental and emotional states across a range of ages, Eily remains stagnant in her obsessive pursuit of her addictive new love, and the novel runs about 50 pages too long. Still, the author is a confident stylist and produces enough dazzling sentences to keep the pages turning—e.g., describing a scene in which Eily and others snort cocaine, McBride writes, “ponytails like tidal waves slap tabletops and nostrils butterfly.”
A unique, mostly engaging work from a talented writer who will hopefully take another step forward in her next novel.