Tuesday 16 February 2016

On Ann Quin (eventually)

On 20th June 2013 I posted a short blog which appears  in full below. It may well be the first blog reference to a newly-published novel that would later take the world by storm and is now established as that paradoxical thing, 'a modern classic'. I had no idea at the time that I would go on to write a book about the book I so much admired, but that has come to pass. About a Girl  (subtitled 'A Reader's guide to Eimear McBride's A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing') will be published on March 17th by CB editions. 

My TLS review of her debut  novel had appeared a couple of weeks before I posted the blog. At that time no other reviews had yet appeared and the book's phenomenal success was still in the future. But within a few months word had spread and the first of many literary awards  - the Goldsmiths - came as belated recognition that a novel of outstanding brilliance and originality, written almost a decade before by an author who bore comparison with Joyce and Beckett and other major modernists, had at last found its place in the world. Eimear McBride is a leading literary figure and her second book The Lesser Bohemians is the most keenly-anticipated novel of 2016. 

The paragraph deleted from my TLS review forms the basis in About a Girl for refections on the paucity of women writers in the modernist movement. The usual names come up in any such discussion - Virginia Woolf inevitably leading the field - although in my view the English critical perspective tends to overlook even those avant-garde writers across the Channel in any consideration of the subject. I realise belatedly that my placing of McBride in the category of female modernists may appear condescending - she's a great writer full stop - but I like to think my intentions were noble. The tiny community of modernist experimental writers contains an even tinier female cohort, and they deserve and repay our close attention as readers. If you haven't read any of Ann Quin's four novels Berg (1964), Three (1966), Passages (1969) and Tripticks (1972), please make a point of doing so as a belated resolution for 2016. Start with Berg - it's a piece of work.


Salvēte! 20th June 2013

Eimear McBride's A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is a superb first novel that I've been raving about to anyone within earshot since I read an advance copy a month ago. You can read my Times Literary Supplement review here.

The TLS quite rightly cut my first paragraph (too much of the Village Explainer), in which I said:

There are not many experimental novelists, and very few of them are female. Leading the field are Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Richardson (whose Pointed Roofsdeveloped a stream of consciousness technique seven years before the publication of Ulysses). More recently Christine Brooke-Rose, Marguerite Duras, Eva Figes, Ann Quin, Nathalie Sarraute and a handful of others have explored and expanded the novel's formal potential. Eimear McBride is of their number and, on the strength of this brilliantly accomplished first book, equal to the best of them. 

Her book is by turns very funny, intensely sad and utterly astonishing. I've never read anything like it.

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