“At least I reek of new less and less. Now at night, uncurling stretch-sore self, I conjure farther futures from the ceiling cracks – in glorious technicolor – what this pleasant present lacks. I will it, hope and dream it. Fine my life’ll be when it comes. When I am right. When I have made myself. When I have. When I”
“The Lesser Bohemians” is Eimear McBride’s second novel and second nomination for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Her first novel, “A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing”, won the prize in 2014. Both works showcase McBride’s anomalous, experimental writing style and the rawness with which she presents tumultuous emotion and intensely complicated relationships.
“The Lesser Bohemians” features the inner thoughts and outward actions of an 18 year old girl who has just moved to London to attend drama school. McBride is calculated and stingy with character names, withholding the protagonist’s name until well past the book’s half-way point and the rest of the characters’ until deep into the final quarter. This tactic is clearly strategic and is meant, perhaps, to influence the way in which the reader gets to know characters and also to connote the mystery and enigmatic nature of people. Because the absence of names is so deliberate and weighs so heavily on the reader’s experience, I shan’t be revealing any names here.
Desperate for adult experience, for maturation into some future self of adult perfection, our protagonist’s journey is shared in a narrative that is as chaotic, jarring and fluid as her life itself. She is in the throes of that sleep-deprived, oft-intoxicated, over-hormonal stage of life that nearly crushes and often indelibly shapes who we become. Uncertain in herself, traumatized by events of childhood, she wants desperately to be someone else, drawn to acting as the perfect mask for her life.
She is sometimes wildly volatile and self-destructive: “I hate it, I fucking hate it. What? All of myself. Take it easy, he says. All my fucking skin. I’d rip it off if I could. I’d start again. I wouldn’t be this. Stop! Him wrestling my hands. Stop it, you’ll hurt yourself. I want to. Lie down! Lie down, and him pinning me best as feral permits. But what worthless limbs can’t, my mouth invites Hit me, I want you to hit me or fuck me til I bleed.”
She is often overly self-critical: “I suddenly misplace the best of myself, allowing a far worse in. And there goes reason. There goes sense. Decency, and with it, tenderness.”
She is always yearning to be someone she’s not: “Off into it so. Time rushing through days. Crucify lazy flesh. Defy lazy brain. And the much and much of delight, of make. Turning the body. Converting the self into flecks of form and re-form. Her. Into her. Into someone else.”
“The Lesser Bohemians” is sometimes violent and traumatic, sometimes sexy and even romantic.
“Before him I thought that when love came it would come perfectly. Not in a dingy room on dirty sheets and not caring at all about those things. It is the spell of him. Unconscious gift that if I told would make him laugh.”
No rose-colored lenses allowed, this book is full of raw emotion; it embraces the messiness of life, the unfettered nature of emotions, the ugly-crier in all of us. McBride’s writing style – the lack of punctuation and, often, any pressure to construct complete sentences – can be challenging, especially until you let go of your pretenses and lean into it. I find it not unlike reading Faulkner – sometimes you just have to step back, cross your eyes, and then plunge in for the narrative to wash over you and start to make sense. Once you allow yourself to be swept up into the rhythms of the story, however, it is hard to resist its beauty, its honesty, its unvarnished look at the best and worst in us. Eimear McBride is a gifted writer with a sure voice and ferociously unique style that are an important addition to literary fiction.
“London’s utterness makes outers of us all – though this morning, mostly, elbows to be missed.”