For some reason, this Prize almost passed me by which is alarming as it sets out to award a prize for exactly the kind of book I am constantly praising, one concerned with formal inventiveness, one 'that breaks the mould and opens up new possibilities for the novel form', in the words of its founders [read more http://tinyurl.com/nbc65s3].
Even better, one of the judges is Gabriel Josipovici whose book Whatever Happened to Modernism? was a clarion call on the quality of today's literary writing. He laments that 'existing prizes in effect reward the kinds of novels that can only be talked about in terms of their content. The notion that to talk of form in fiction is to despise content is deeply ingrained in English literary culture - in fact the opposite is the case'.
A shortlist of six books is going forward, the winner to be announced on 13 November. And what is really exciting is that one of the six is A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride, an Irish born author now living in England and a true inheritor of Joyce. Anne Enright has already called her a genius, an opinion with which I concur. In form and language, it is unique written as it is in half-formed sentences but with each word chosen to implode in the text with astonishing power that drives the narrative. Though we are living in the mind of a young woman, this is not a stream of consciousness but a frightening look at the travails of childhood, schooldays and beyond to the age of 20. She grows up in a household where the father has left, her elder brother has survived a childhood brain tumour which has left him damaged and her mother becomes a charismatic christian. While religion or, rather the outward forms of a public piosity play a part in the book, it does not dominate. She deals with the cruelty and mindless viciousness that can happen in school. She discovers sex and pain and the power sex gives. McBride deals particularly elegantly with the love the narrator has for her disabled brother coupled with the frustration and hate of his handicap. All her characters are nameless.
This is a truly exciting and extraordinary piece of literature in both form, language and content. The jacket of the novel carries a quotation from the text which gives a taste of her writing: 'I think your face the very best. When we were we were we were young. When you were little and I was girl. Once upon a time'.
I doubt I shall read a better book anytime soon.
A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride, published in pb by Galley Beggar.