by Eimear McBride | £12.99 | 9780571355143 | 192 pages | Faber & Faber |06/02/2020
McBride’s third novel offers five moments in the life of an unnamed woman approaching middle age. Each part begins with a list of place names, some with an ‘x’ beside them—any of which, we feel, could be the location for what follows. The first scene takes place in a hotel room in Avignon in southern France; then hotel rooms in Prague, Oslo, Auckland and, finally, Austin, Texas. Such is the interior layout of hotels that a certain spatial conflation happens as the book proceeds. Each part features a room, a viewpoint out of it, and a man either in the room or somewhere outside. Each section is a seemingly straightforward situation from which emerges complex contemplations that contain glimpses of backstory and, within them, glimpses of motivation and intent. To point out the novel’s structure like this is at odds with how the form of the book slowly makes itself apparent—with a compelling, limpid clarity.
The central figure is referred to as ‘she’. In a moment early on, this she—who has passed out on her bed after drinking two bottles of wine and smoking many cigarettes—coalesces with the narrator, and an ‘I’ appears, briefly. This happens again towards the end and suggests that this narrative consists not only of shifts in memory and location but also in registers of awareness, and this awareness often folds back on itself, giving a commentary of sorts on the language in the text. All of this is done seamlessly, and, in the first scene, with humour: she awakes, hungover, with the TV blaring the moans and groans from the pornographic channel to which she fell asleep hours before, and wonders how the other guests might judge her apparent appetite for such things.
The third ‘moment’ occurs in Oslo. She stands at a condensation-clouded window wondering why she has not yet left the room. Over the course of this prevarication we learn that there is a man sleeping in the bed behind her. She wonders should she leave before he wakes. In this time, she produces five theories for her not leaving, from which we learn about a lost love and the nature of the encounter with this man. In ‘Theory 4’, her thoughts open out expansively into an extraordinary rumination on her relationship, in this moment, with language itself. The sidelong approach McBride takes to grief and forgetting becomes subtly apparent in expositions of this kind. Though the language in her book has a foreground, it is a foreground that allows the reader to suppose what is beyond the utterance—what is ghosting the distraction.
It’s rare to read a book where to yield to the mood of its text requires an alertness to the details of its making—you pass yourself on the way up and down—but these kinds of demands over the course of the novel lend action and richness to what is already a beautifully formed narrative.
Review by Adrian Duncan.
Adrian is an artist and writer based in Ireland and Berlin.His debut novel Love Notes from a German Building Site was published by The Lilliput Press and Head of Zeus in 2019. His second novel A Sabbatical in Leipzig will be published by The Lilliput Press in 2020.