Subtle, sensual writing builds up the enchanting mix of prose and poetry in the stream of consciousness that’s a delightful spring read. Challenging the conventions and delivering a variation on a captivating love story, the author of A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing brings us a modern love story with an atmosphere made of nuances, ambiguities, and hard-hitting confessions.
When an Irish 19-year-old Eily moves into an elderly lady’s loft room in London to study drama, her dreams are bigger than ever. Entering the new world shows her the side of youth that she hasn’t experienced before. The capital drives her in with the strong force, presenting a new palette of feelings and events that she learns to respond to, but soon it brings her an unusual encounter that stirs her life up once again. One night at a Camden pub, she meets Stephen. Although he’s twice her age and neither of them promises themselves anything when they first sleep together, they give in to intense fascination which they can’t really comprehend.
Eimear McBride’s style might be at first difficult to tune into, but you can quickly get used to her broken sentences that paint the stream of consciousness with a creative mess that mirrors a human’s mind well enough, spicing it up with a dose of romantic, lyrical prose. And her style also depicts the complications which the characters face – a one-night stand that turns into a relationship that seems to implode under their complicated past, only to resurface again and again when the lovers realise how much tangled feelings they’ve got for each other.
The point of view and voice she adopts is an excellent frame for letting the characters be truly vulnerable. When we spend time just with Eily and her friends and acquaintances, we understand that the choices she makes are puzzling for herself at times. She gets to grow up, adapting to her peers at the speed of light. Thoroughly fascinated by London and by her new bohemian environment, she starts understanding herself better and tastes the life that she always wanted to lead. Once the writer pairs her with Stephen, she embarks on yet another journey to discover her reactions to situations she’s never faced before.
One of the strongest points of The Lesser Bohemians is the delectable sensuality in the way the author writes about their encounters. Because of this frenetic stream of consciousness, she captures passion and seductiveness brilliantly. Without revealing every single detail obnoxiously, she presents the scene electrified by emotions. It’s descriptive, but delicately so: McBride doesn’t feel the need to be revealing and knows all too well that well-balanced innuendo speaks louder than a thousand unnecessary words. It’s buzzingly cinematic, too, with its transcendental, sumptuous celebration of love.
It’s also rare for a book to be so convincing about the story of domestic violence and sexual abuse, especially told from a male perspective. Revealed through intense monologues that the narrator tries to process and understand are vivid details and the feelings that our protagonist reads from her partner. The author prepares the reader for it, too; we get to observe how the past has influenced the main character. Nevertheless, the same thing is true for Eily, whose difficult past is signalled gently. It works very well, especially when we try to recognise how much effort goes into burying those memories and trying not to recall them.
With an unusual portrayal of feelings, subtle yet suggestive writing and captivating characters, McBride proves that she can be inventive and experimental without giving up the aspects that speak to the wider public the loudest: vivid, heartfelt characterisation and moving story with a shattering ending. Playing on readers’ feelings, she makes us engage with the heroes of the story and care for them deeply – only to be unable to leave them be on the book pages for longer than a couple of hours.