I really debated what rating to give this book. I didn’t really enjoy it, yet it’s impossible not to see why it’s winning every award. It is expertly written, and without a doubt one of the best debut novels I have ever come across. It is for this reason I gave it three stars. If I had enjoyed it I would have given it 5.
The story follows a girl (unnamed) from the time of her birth over an approximately 20 year period, growing up in rural Ireland in an extremely dysfunctional family; absent father, extremely religious, clearly depressed and overwhelmed mother, and sick brother.
The book is written entirely from within the girls head as a stream of consciousness. However unlike other stream of consciousness novels, Portrait if an Artist as as Young Man in particular springs to mind, the sentences are not fully formed or formally structured. Things also tend to jump around a lot, particularly in the early sections when she is a young child, mirroring the thought pattern of a small child. In this respect it is perhaps the most accurate representation of how we truly think. As things happen our minds suddenly change topic, half formed thoughts drift off mid sentence. For her ability to encapsulate this alone, McBride deserves 5 stars, and all the accolades she is receiving. I have no doubt as a result this novel will be on literature courses for years to come, held up as an excellent example of its style.
However it is the style which turned me off. It is extremely hard to get into the book, and it is work to read. I found myself having to psych myself up to read it, and nothing but sheer determination and it’s short length would have made me finish it. While once you get into it, it becomes easier to read, it is never a relaxing or enjoyable experience.
This is undoubtedly a book you will either love or hate. I err on the hate side, though I can recognise it for what it is….the first glimpse of a genius.