The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
Irish author McBride writes in a complex, presumably “Joycean” style that takes some getting used to, and a lot of concentration to follow. (The open paragraph: “I move. Cars move. Stock, it bends light. City opening itself behind. Here’s to be for its life is the bite and would be start of mine.” Phew!) I thought I would hate this style, but once I got into it, it actually flows pretty smoothly, considering.
The story rattles through the consciousness of a young Irish woman come to London to study acting in 1994. She meets an older man and they have a hot and disorderly love affair. Very hot, and very disorderly. Names are barely mentioned in the story, though her name appears to be “Eily” (uh oh!).
Unfortunately, both the lovers are unhappy, badly damaged people, prone to self destructive activity. They find love together, but can they keep this precious thing, despite themselves.
The plot is difficult to follow at places (I don’t know London so the references are opaque), and very painful to witness throughout. The unhappy lovers tear at themselves and each other, seemingly unable to connect for long.
It is maddening to read. Why can’t you two see it? To hell with the past, grab on to love and hold for dear life! Stop punishing yourself and each other!
It is distressing to contemplate just how much of this story may be autobiographical. I know that you are supposed to write what you know, but I truly hope that most of this story is fiction, not personal history.
Returning to the style, you may want to see if you agree with my observation that the style is most choppy and names missing at the start, and becomes more coherent, and names appear, as love blooms. Bad turns become hard to read, good days read very clearly. I conclude that McBride uses these gyrations between coherence and incoherence, recognition and alienation to signal the mental state of her narrator. I have to say it is a bit of a wild ride, and far from pleasant—but I’m sure that was the intention.
Is there a deeper artistic meaning? Something about sanity and happiness being “linear” and conventional, which mad self-hatred is incoherent and disconnected? I dunno, and I’m not sure it matters.
Anyway, read it an see what you think.
- Eimear McBride, The Lesser Bohemians, New York, Hogarth, 2016.
Sunday Book Reviews