Review: The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride

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The Lesser Bohemians – Margaret Wappler
Release Date: 01/09/2016 (UK)
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Pages: 320pp RRP: £16.99 (Hardback)
Kindle edition available here (£6.99)

After winning the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction for her debut novel, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, there was always going to be the question of how Eimear McBride’s next novel would hold up by comparison. Having just finished reading it, I can say it’s not quite there, but that’s still a good thing.

The Lesser Bohemians follows a young drama student, Eily, newly arrived in London, keen to make a new start in her life, and desperate to lose her virginity at the earliest convenience. Her earliest sexual exploration efforts draw her into an intense relationship with an actor twenty years her senior, Stephen. What at first begins as a casual sexual relationship, grows into something frighteningly intense for both partners – Eily, for her inexperience, and Stephen, for his desire to control the feelings it unleashes.

McBride’s writing style can admittedly be tricky for some readers to follow. But for those that can keep up, it’s incredibly rewarding. The broken sentences take on an odd lyrical quality that gives the narrative a wonderful rhythmic quality. What surprised me the most about this story, however, was how McBride captured the minute shifts in feeling between moments. Her depictions of the sexual encounters between Eily and Stephen are particularly impressive – primarily due to the use of the unique narrative voice to focus on the emotional internal, rather than the physical external. It can be incredibly difficult to depict sex (there’s a reason the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award exists – I’m looking at you, Morrissey), but McBride manages to capture the weirdness of the act, the emotional highs, and the deep connections formed.

The Lesser Bohemians does falter ever so slightly in the closing act, as we find out more about Stephen’s background and his relationship with his ex-wife. This was largely due to a kind of loss of unpredictability that was carried through the early stages of the novel. Eily’s voice feels more poetic than her predecessor in McBridge’s first novel, more open to the world around her – when the narrative moves away from this, it feels noticeably less surefooted. In doing this, it lacks that hammer blow feel that A Girl is a Half-formed Thing had on reading for the first time. Saying that this novel isn’t quite on par with a great novel by the same author isn’t a bad thing though. With this release, Eimear McBride has become an author whose next releases will make her audience stand up and pay attention.

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