Thursday 19 September 2013

Eponymous Eimear McBride

The list of eponymous adjectives derived from an author's name is short and distinguished, but relentlessly masculine. Here are some, in alphabetical order as they occur to me:

Ballardian, Becketian, Brechtian, Dantesque, Dickensian, Eliotian (after T. S. Eliot, though some prefer Eliotic), Freudian, Joycean, Jungian, Kafkaesque, Keatsian, Lawrentian, Marlovian, Miltonic, Nabokovian, Pinteresque, Rabeleisian, Shakespearian, Shavian (as in Shaw) Swiftian, Tennysonian, Tolstoyan, Wildean and Yeatsian. 

Can you think of any female equivalents? Woolfean? Murdochian? Mantelic? Shriveresque?  None of these seem to be in circulation. Why are no women writers thus eponymised? Or if they are why can't I think of any? Who, in any case, decides what form the eponym will take? What cultural and linguistic rules apply? Why don't we say, for instance, Pinterish? Pinteric? Pinterian?

The reason for today's blog is that there's a new name to add to the list, and for once it's not blokeian. Eimear McBride's first novel has this week generated a new critical term - McBridean.

Eimear McBride 

The term (compilers of a future OED should note) appears in the September/October issue of The New Humanist, in Toby Lichtig's review of McBride's debut novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. It's the kind of review that can cause a stampede at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the kind of review that restores your faith in reading and writing and the power of the novel. It's also the kind of review that critics rarely get to write - both level-headed and unequivocally ecstatic.


Lichtig's coinage 'McBridean' refers to her radically experimental style of writing, something that is completely new and immediately convincing. While her prose has its roots in the great modernist texts of the 1920s - Ulysses, Mrs Dalloway etc. - it's far rougher and more psychologically compelling than anything by Joyce or Woolf. Strange things happen to a McBridean sentence, which is rarely a sentence at all. Language is dismantled and rebuilt while all the rules of grammar and lexis are confidently rejected, creating a new prose form that transmits the narrator's thoughts and feelings directly into the reader's consciousness without (or so it seems) the mediation of an author's voice. It's an amazing achievement and confirms the Wordsworthian (!) view that "every great and original writer in proportion as he is great and original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished". McBride's writing demands a new approach from readers, critics and (oh gawd) academics.

Toby Lichtig's review is here. You can read my TLS review here and Anne Enright's amazing Guardian review here. Then buy your copy from the publishers, Galley Beggar Press here.

It's a book that will never appeal to a mass audience but - to make an unlikely comparison - is like the first Velvet Underground LP. Very few people bought that, but (famously) everyone who did buy it formed a band. It's precisely that kind of book, and if you care about real literature (and since you read this blog I expect that you do), if you can't stand the homogenised meretricious pap that makes up most mainstream publishers' fiction lists, if you want to read something that makes you feel how you felt when you first read Joyce or Beckett or Woolf, if you want to read a new novel that for once makes your hair stand on end and your heart pound and your brain race and your eyes itch you really must drop whatever you're reading and get to grips with A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. 

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