Saturday 24 February 2018

Book Worm: Love that spawned a hatred

Eimear McBride
Eimear McBride

John Boland

The latest contributor to all the publicity is critic John Sutherland, who in the Guardian takes a characteristically offbeat line – and one that has outraged some bloggers, who have detected no irony in his use of the phrase "loathsome Ireland" when describing where A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is set.

They have also been incensed by his remark that for some Irish writers, exile was "the only relationship" they could have with "the awful place", though it's obvious that he's only trying to reflect the attitude of such writers.

Indeed, it leads him to wonder if there's such a thing as "a novel about Ireland that loves Ireland".

In fact, the way Sutherland views it, McBride's novel poses the general question, "Why does Irish fiction so hate Ireland?"

You could write a thesis on that if you'd a mind to, though I can think of some contemporary Irish writers who have a real, if exasperated, affection for our infuriating little nation.

Not least of these is Roddy Doyle, whose Barrytown novels (even the recent The Guts) celebrate their all-too-fallible inhabitants of northside Dublin estates, while bleak realist Donal Ryan can find black comedy amid the deprivations of recession-hit rural Ireland.

Sutherland finally takes issue with the term "stream of consciousness" that has generally been applied to McBride's daunting linguistic method in A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing.

"It doesn't really fit," he argues. And he concludes: "The fact is, we don't, as yet, have a term that does fit what McBride is doing."

However, given the attention her book has been getting, I'm sure someone will come up with the requisite term.

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