A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing

Eimear McBride’s celebrated debut novel is taken to the stage

Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, The Young Vic, London, 2016. Photograph: Fiona Morgan

Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, The Young Vic, London, 2016. Photograph: Fiona Morgan

Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, The Young Vic, London, 2016. Photograph: Fiona Morgan

When I first read Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (2013) I found myself mouthing the words, rolling them around under my breath. The language – musical, idiomatic, material – demands articulation: 'In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say'; 'I couldn’t bide the loud Do not.'

The novel – narrated by a girl from the west of Ireland who addresses a defiant account of her life to the spectre of her elder brother – draws its power from the unsettling rhythms, ambiguous usages and fucked-up grammars that concretize the inability of written language to communicate its protagonist’s felt experience. The transferral of these unruly words to the stage seems like a natural extension of McBride’s protest against the silencing of women’s voices.

At London's Young Vic, the (pointedly unnamed) girl’s words are embodied in the remarkable performance of Aoife Duffin. She occupies a stage scattered with soil, at the centre of a beam of light which occasionally narrows and sharpens. Barefoot and alone, she performs a young girl who ventriloquizes a frightened mother, a predatory uncle, schoolyard culchies, the sententious priests and charismatics that plague the west of Ireland and – most painfully – her own divided self.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, written when the author was 27, belongs as much to the radical traditions of disruptive, disobedient poetry and performance – Hélène Cixous’s écriture féminine, the nuova scrittura movement led by Ketty La Rocca and Tomaso Binga in Italy, even Ana Mendieta’s protests against women’s invisibility – as to the canonical history of the novel. This exceptional play extends its influence, and the horizons of new writing and theatre.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing runs at The Young Vic until 26 March.

Ben Eastham is co-founder and editor of The White Review, assistant editor of art-agenda, and associate editor of South as a State of Mind, the documenta 14 journal. He is the co-author, with Katya Tylevich, of My Life as a Work of Art (Laurence King, 2016). 

Most Read

Ahead of its South London Gallery performance, how Tom Phillips’s Irma – a work that questions the genre of opera...
With the opening of the 15th Istanbul Biennial this week, a guide to the best exhibitions around town
Ahead of the openings of EXPO Chicago and the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, a guide to the best exhibitions...
Florine Stettheimer, Beauty Contest: To the Memory of P.T. Barnum, 1924, oil on canvas, 1.2 x 1.5 m. Courtesy: Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut and Ettie Stettheimer
The Jewish Museum, New York, USA
Highlights of the exhibitions and performances taking place during Berlin Art Week 
Reflections, a favourite verse, and a new poem dedicated to one of the English language’s most renowned poets of the...
Nicole Eiseman, Sketch for a Fountain (Skizze für einen Brunnen), 2017, Skulptur Projekte 2017, bronze, gips, wasserbecken. Courtesy: Skulptur Projekte Münster
Various venues, Münster, Germany
Buoyed by Manifesta announcing it will dock in the port city in 2020, is Marseille becoming the new LA? 
Ahead of this year’s DC Open and gallery share Okey-Dokey, a round-up of the best shows across the Rhineland cities
From artist Enoch Cheng’s nocturnal balletics to fascist violence in Charlottesville, rethinking the political agency...
Opened 15 months ago but remaining empty until now, the inaugural show at the landmark Palestinian Museum in Birzeit
The dual sides to the city’s Cph Art Week
Queer cringe at the BBC and other diversity dilemmas
Marta Minujín, El Partenón de libros (The Parthenon of Books), 2017, under construction in Kassel as part of documenta 14. Photograph: © Rosa Maria Ruehling
On documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel
Chris Kraus’s biography of the first female ‘Great Writer as Countercultural Hero’
Remembering the artist whose occultist experiments transformed her body and biography into art 
In this microcosm of the disenfranchisement of ‘Late Great Britain’, what use is art?
Public debate around Confederate insignia has little to do with historical fact, and everything to do with collective...
A multi-faceted collaboration between Matthew Barney, Ragnar Kjartansson and the Iceland Dance Company reflects on...
What Luc Besson’s Valerian and a number of recent artists’ 3D films are getting right about our current reality
The removal of the Confederate monuments in Baltimore shows decisiveness after years of inaction – already they stand...
Yayoi Kusama to open her own museum; Confederate monuments removed in Baltimore; David Roberts Art Foundation to leave...
From a tribute to Straub/Huillet to Valerie Massadian’s portrait of teenage motherhood, the turn to real situations and...
Japan’s growing number of art festivals tread a precarious path between state-sponsored leisure-culture and soft-power...
Fifty years after the term was coined, a show in Samos reflects on ‘the unlikely liaison between love and politics’
Arsenale and Giardini, Venice, Italy
SoundCloud has been invaluable to the new music community for both documentation and discovery – now the audio-...
The extraordinary life of the late, great, gallerist and collector Alexander Iolas
Various venues, New York, USA
At a time of instantaneous information and fetishized immersivity, artists are evoking scent as an alchemical, bodily...
With her current show at Gasworks, London, the Kuwaiti artist shares some influential images
Romare Bearden, Pittsburgh Memory, 1964, mixed media collage and graphite on board, 22 x 30 cm. Courtesy: © Romare Bearden Foundation / DACS, London / VAGA, New York 2017
Successfully layering a broader socio-historical narrative onto a period of radical non-conformity, this is an...
With a strong surrealist strain, and including a welcome number of female artists, highlights from the 48th edition of...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

May 2017

frieze magazine

June – August 2017

frieze magazine

September 2017