The Lesser Bohemians
[Faber & Faber]
Eimear McBride’s first novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing quickly defied the nine years it had spent unpublished, going on first to win the Goldsmiths Prize and later the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Needless to say, for the publishers, The Lesser Bohemians, did not seem such a gamble and McBride shows a renewed confidence in her own style throughout this second book. Set largely at an unnamed drama school in 1990s London, the novel follows a young Irish actress through the uncertain tempo of a fledgling relationship that offers both parties the chance to climb free of characteristically difficult beginnings. From the outset, McBride crafts an unnerving and unabridged romance, with sections of prose tumbling out from amongst a stilted and often sing-song narrative, heavily pregnant with the unsaid.
The intimacy of the prose remains startling throughout the book. Still, it can be difficult for the reader to maintain empathy, as the words on the page jar and stutter in accordance with the plot. Through the constraints of her storytelling, McBride’s sex scenes – of which there are many – tread the fine line between the explicit and the gratuitous.
McBride has devised a narrative so alarmingly akin to the warblings of the barely conscious mind that the book speaks more in the patterns and rhythms of thought than in words. She forces her lead to grapple with the haplessness of infidelity committed both by her and against her, before concluding that the opposite of love might not be hate, but in fact despair. McBride’s is ultimately a tale of “an imperfect love that was meant utterly”. This connects her with many others, but her work uniquely shines through the poeticism of its prose. It is undoubtedly arresting, and memorable more in the evocation of feelings than in singular sentences – this being perhaps the most fitting testament to its strengths.
Words – Julia O’Mahony