Since its launch in 1996 the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction has been celebrating the very best full length fiction written by women. With previous winners including A.M. Homes, Rose Tremain, Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy and Carol Shields the prize has become one of the most respected and successful literary awards throughout the world. It celebrates excellence and originality in women’s writing.
It’s a prize that makes the publishing and literary world take notice, which is ironic really given publishers spent ten years ignoring the 2014 winner Eimear McBride. Had it not been for a chance meeting with a bookshop owner in Norwich, McBride’s debut novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing may never have been published, let alone win any prestigious awards. McBride, who grew up in Ireland before moving to the UK, wrote the novel when she was 27 and then spent more than a decade trying to get it published. It wasn’t until she met Norwich-based Galley Beggar Press that she found someone willing to take it on.
The novel is a fast-paced stream of consciousness that is better read in a few sittings to fully experience the intensity of the prose. The reader is plunged into the world of a young unnamed narrator who is trying to make sense of a life under the shadow of sexual abuse and illness. It’s not comfortable reading. In fact, there are moments that are so uncomfortable you may want to look away, but there is something so captivating and enthralling about the novel that you stay with it. You may emerge startled but the experience is worth it. It’s rare a first-time novelist can make such an impact, but McBride does just that. The language, voice and style are authentic. Despite McBride’s young age when she wrote it, you get the feeling that you’re in the company of an experienced writer. There is something to be admired about a young writer who knew what she wanted to write and did not change her novel just to get it published, even when the rejection slips were piling up.
A Girl is a Half-formed Thing may be a dark and difficult story but its language and style make it all the more powerful. It’s clever. It’s startling. It’s definitely a worthy winner of the women’s prize for fiction.