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September 25, 2014

Book Notes - Eimear McBride "A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing"

A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Eimear McBride's novel A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing has been much lauded and deserves every accolade it has received. Imaginatively told and poignantly resonant, this debut is one of the year's best books.

The Guardian wrote of the book:

"This is a novel so emotionally overwhelming that it can be hard to finish a sentence, but also one in which each line repays thought and second reading."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Eimear McBride's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing:


1. 'Come on Eileen' - Dexys Midnight Runners

I suppose I'm starting with this because, although there are no specific dates in A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, it's obviously set across the 80's and early 90's and nothing says early 80's like Come on Eileen. Everyone who remembers that time remembers this song and the moment when denim dungarees were almost cool. I'm sure the girl spends a few Saturday mornings lepping around her sitting room to the video when it's on 'Anything Goes'.


2. 'I am Star Wars!' - Smog

This is my solitary cheat. Everything else I've chosen is either specific to the period of the novel or was already around at the time it was written - 2003/2004. My excuse is that there are several references to the children playing Star Wars in the book and, as far as I'm concerned, there isn't a finer musical reference available, beyond using the score itself -which would also feel like a cheat.


3. 'She is Beyond Good and Evil' - The Pop Group

This one is fairly self-explanatory I think. I'm especially fond of the line 'Western values mean nothing to her' which could only be improved upon -for this purpose- by substituting 'Western' for 'Catholic'.


4. 'Baby I Don't Care' - Transvision Vamp

A great pop song and apt description of the girl's attitude towards many things. It was a relief to write a female character whose main goal in life wasn't finding a boyfriend or making emotional connections with other people. I'm particularly fond of the sections when she leaves home for university and realises she is answerable to herself alone. While much of the novel is about the conflicts that arise in her as a result of the gap between who she is and who she has been reared to be, these sections allow a glimpse of a young woman on a messy mission to make herself free.


5. 'St Matthew's Passion' - Erbarme Dich - J.S Bach

In a way this choice illustrates the flip side of 'Baby I Don't Care'. The text translates as 'Have mercy, Lord, on me, regard my bitter weeping. Look at me, heart and eyes both weep to thee, bitterly' The girl is racked with guilt towards her brother for what life has brought to him and what she herself has brought him. He is the deepest love of her life and the eternal tie that binds. This piece reflects the pain and sincerity of her feeling towards him.


6. 'Zoo Music Girl' - The Birthday Party

There's something in the frenetic beat of this song which reminds me of the girl's increasing sense of panic and claustrophobia. As events spin out of control she grasps at familiar, self-immolating solutions but with ever diminishing returns.


7. 'Man-Size Sextet' - PJ Harvey

This one is chosen with the girl's uncle in mind. The shamelessness of the lyrics and the rawness in PJ Harvey's voice create the disconcerting impression of two broken cogs still trying to push each other around, which pretty much sums up that relationship.


8. 'Under Ice' - Kate Bush

I'm always happy to have a reason to listen to Kate Bush, but there's an eery sense of isolation to this song which is in someway reminiscent of freefall the girl's life enters towards the end of the novel.


9.'The Cockfighter' - Scott Walker

Tilt is one of my favourite albums and I chose this song because -similarly to 'Man-Size Sextet'- there are a number of opposing ideas being pushed together at once. The lyrics are beautiful and deeply poetic, although the subject matter is brutal, and the music works in violent counterpoint to both. The effect is quite stressful and, for me, the final percussive section has something in common with the penultimate scenes in the novel.


10. 'The Swan of Tuonela' - Jean Sibelius

This is taken from Sibelius' tone poem 'The Lemminkainen Suite' based on the Finnish epic The Kalevala. In this particular section the swan circles the island of the Dead. Swan imagery appears repeatedly in the book and the story itself is something of an inversion of the Irish myth of the Children of Lir, in which a stepmother turns her step children into swans and exiles them on various lakes in Ireland for 900 years, until they are freed by the tolling of the first Christian bell. In Girl it works the other way round.


Eimear McBride and A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing links:

the author's Wikipedia page
excerpt from the book

Chicago Tribune review
Globe and Mail review
Guardian review
HTMLGIANT review
Kirkus review
London Review of Books review
Macleans.ca review
The Millions review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
New York Times review
New Yorker review
NPR Books review
Slate review
Wall Street Journal review

The White Review interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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