Book Review by Frank O’Shea
Eimear McBride: The Lesser Bohemians, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2016, 312 pp.
ISBN 978 1 9253 5516 1
A young Irish girl goes to London to enrol in a drama college. She meets a man twice her age in a pub, and they adjourn to his flat for sex. It is a bit painful, so they do it again the following night with some variations but only little improvement. However, they continue to practice over the next few months and begin to enjoy it. Then, while she is back in Ireland for the Christmas holidays, he takes another woman to his bed. When she discovers this, she takes her revenge, this time with two men at the same time.
If you get a bit of a pattern in all of this, you would not be mistaken. By the end of the book, every possible variety of sexual pairing is covered, including mother-son. So are a wide range of the physical actions that are possible within the limitations of the cartography of the human body, male and female.
This is all described in the fractured, haphazard form that the author used so brilliantly in her first novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. By way of example, here she and her friend are discussing her early encounters with her lover.
‘We are rat tat pull and snigger. We are drinks and draggeldy home. I am chips and she’s pickled egg. Always for the tale and tale again. And it gets heavy with the lies I make but I like them. She does too. Thrown on the bed type three times come. Interlocked fingers or wrists held down. Why she doesn’t notice the new every time is beyond me. But I lie well. But not inside. That, unhitched, goes flail about.’
In time, you get used to this scattergun prose and indeed as the basic problems of the central characters become closer to resolution, the prose becomes almost normal, if you excuse the absence of speech marks and little attempt to indicate who is actually speaking. The other element that is added to the story towards the end is the sudden inclusion of people’s names. He is Stephen and she is Eilis; his first wife is Marianne and their daughter is Grace; the homosexual couple who save Stephen from descent into drug-fuelled madness are David and Rafi.
There is of course no requirement on an author to provide the reader with a few likeable characters, but everyone here seems to be equally reckless, selfish, self-centred and juvenile, with the possible exceptions of David and Rafi, briefly mentioned above.
This is the kind of book that reminds you that there really is such a thing as the generation gap. It may well be that the story is set in a world that is unknown to most people of vintage similar to this reviewer. The book seems to suggest that such a world exists – fertilised by depravity, devoted to decadence and supported by the market – as a trap for the unwary or the innocent. And if that is a salutary warning, it is also the main reason for (unenthusiastically) recommending the book.
Frank is a member of the Tintean Editorial Collective.