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). 

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