Books in brief: The Lesser Bohemians

August 17, 2016

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride (Faber & Faber, £16.99)

Eimear McBride has followed up her award-winning debut, 2013’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, with a remarkable second novel. Set in London’s Camden Town in the mid-1990s, The Lesser Bohemians tells the story of a love affair between Eily, an 18-year-old Irish girl in the first year of drama school, and a charismatic but troubled 38-year-old actor. What begins as a passionate fling develops into a deeper emotional entanglement, as we learn that both characters are living with the legacy of childhood abuse. The man has a daughter with his estranged ex: the child is every bit as central to this novel as the lover, an avatar for his past failures and his hopes of redemption.

Though more accessibly told than its predecessor, The Lesser Bohemians retains certain elements of its stylistic traits: the distinctive, staccato syntax of McBride’s first-person narration gives her prose a pointillistic vibrancy, and her idiosyncratic grammar (“she reluctants Okay,” “I mortify my way back to her”) vividly evokes the scattergun sensory confusion of those first young forays into big-city life. This is a love story not just in the sense of relating a romance between two people; it is as much about the damage wrought by the absence of love, or by love that has atrophied and gone wrong. For all its harrowing poignancy, its message—that damaged people need not be condemned to misery, and human tenderness can prevail—is affectingly optimistic.