Ben Hamilton

The trouble with actors

The Lesser Bohemians is another story with a young female Irish narrator, but a less successful one

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, Eimear McBride’s acclaimed, prize-winning debut, felt like a one-off, not the beginning of a career. Its prose style — a staccato, Beckettian rush — was a good match for the subject of burgeoning womanhood amid grief and exploitation. But it was also very intense — so much so that before the novel’s end the language started to break apart, as if McBride had, with her very first book, reached beyond the limits of her voice.

Yet here we are with a second novel and another young female Irish narrator with an unconventional syntax. This narrator (unnamed, like all the characters, until late in the novel) has escaped her family and moved to London to attend drama school. She would rather be pursuing her sex life than learning how to act — not necessarily out of any bodily desire but because status dictates it, just as it demands a flat stomach (‘without a flat stomach all the world is poisoned’) and constant boozing. An older actor, complete with a troubled-but-sexy burnout vibe, is the man who finally introduces her to life among the ‘already-belonged’ (otherwise known as adulthood).

Much of the first half of The Lesser Bohemians details a series of sexual encounters between these two characters. Before we are numbed by the lack of variation, however, the actor takes over the narrative with a long confession. His previously guarded past is revealed to be a gauntlet of torments, packed with incest, drug abuse and suicide attempts. This baring of wounds is almost novella-length and, without wishing to be flippant about the reality of these issues, I can’t fathom the sheer volume of mistreatment in this man’s biography and how it’s delivered to the reader in one large slab of prose.

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