A lot of the time we talk about how good a book was in terms of how quickly we read it. At least, I do. Because if a book refuses to let you go about you’re normal life until you finish reading it, then it’s doing something right. When someone asks me about a book I’ve loved I often gush about it and hear myself saying ‘I read it in X amount of days’. A lot of my favourite books I devoured in one of two sittings, but some of them have been surprisingly slow reads. It took a long time for me to get through Jane Eyre, even though I was completely enamoured by it. I wanted to keep the story with me as long as possible. There was nothing about the prose that made it difficult to read, but I like to let the story wander in my imagination. I’m not one for re-reading really, so I knew that if I did come back to it again it wouldn’t be for some time. So I savoured it.
Reading A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing was a slightly different experience. Although just over 200 pages, I’m not sure I could have raced through the book even if I tried. For one, the prose doesn’t have an easy rhythm. The sentences are fragmented, jagged, missing verbs and nouns. It has the staccato tempo of a drum beat. You have to take your time, because the words you expect to find are missing. It’s raw and exposed, not the cohesive flow of a storyteller but the broken narrative of someone who doesn’t know how to express themselves. The narrator of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing has never been asked what her life has been like, and the suggestions is that no-one would listen. The only person she feels she can her story to is her older brother, whose life is just as out of his control as hers is.
There’s a lot of pain and guilt in the book, and that was another reason I had to take my time. The narrator accumulates a large amount of guilt from a young age, too much for a child to handle. Throughout the novel, her mother’s behaviour towards her sways violently between pleading and outrage, and the only other relative who shows her kindness has an ulterior motive. It’s not surprising that instead of flourishing she devolves into acts of self-destruction. She doesn’t see herself as a person, and her detachment from what happens to her makes this evident. Her decline is hard to read.
It took me a while to read A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing but it was a provoking, emotional read.