When Eimear McBride’s novel A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing was first published, it received rapturous reviews. Her obscene, first-person plunge into an Irish girl’s roiling mind is
assaultive and exciting: Its fragmented
language — bearing no quotation marks, sometimes not even verbs — forces us to puzzle out who’s speaking. But eventually, stories about the unnamed narrator’s time
in the womb (“A vinegar world I smelled”), growing sexual appetite, and relationship with her cancer-ravaged brother bubble through the stream of consciousness like gas through peat. If she’s a half-formed
anything, she’s a half-formed Beckett.
Yet McBride’s text is not stage text.
Delivered aloud, in a new adaptation by Dublin-based director Annie Ryan, it loses its mystery. We don’t hear the text’s misspellings or Joycean jabberwocky (“He slurp the chew the”), so we focus instead on the girl’s short life, a series of grim revelations. Ryan and her performer, Aoife Duffin, are
intent on keeping things understandable: Over the course of the eighty-minute-long soliloquy, Duffin changes her voice and
stature to become, by turns, cruel Mammy, pedophile Uncle, a chain-smoking friend
at school. But in clarity we lose the book’s marvelous confusion. McBride’s trick was to disorient us so thoroughly that we believed — against all the evidence — that the narrator might rise above her childhood. Why snuff out even that little hope?
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing
Directed by Annie Ryan
Baryshnikov Arts Center
450 West 37th Street
Through April 30