Published: September 2016, Faber & Faber
My Rating: 4/5
“for all the world’s an empty stage if he’s not standing in it.” – The Lesser Bohemians, pg. 265
When a young Irish actress finds herself training in London, all she dreams of is the West End and a flourishing cinema scene. Unexpectedly, when our protagonist – Eily – starts a passionate affair with Stephan, an actor twenty years her senior, she learns about love, sex, and ‘the dark and the light’ (Faber & Faber, 2016).
Quite like Eily’s experience in London, McBride’s novel is unexpected in every way. The Lesser Bohemians is her second novel (her debut being the multi-award winning A Girl is a Half Formed Thing) and comes across as the perfect birth child of Nabokov’s Lolita and Anaïs Nin’s Henry and June. A novel ridden with forbidden love, shocking life differences, and the power of finding sex.
Eimear McBrides writing is exquisitely distinct. All her own – and a little daunting at first – the complete disappearance of quotation marks is replaced with calculated spacial use. At first, this can confuse outer dialogue with inner dialogue. However, if, as the the reader, we let McBrides prose wash over us then the reading experience can only be described as euphoric.
As characters, Eily and Stephan are complete contradictions. Eily is young and naïve at eighteen, while Stephan is experienced and much older at almost forty. Although at two opposite phases of life, both struggle with troubling and destructive pasts that refuse to be ignored. In Eily’s discovery of Stephan’s complicated life, she quickly transforms to being much beyond her years.
The Lesser Bohemians is not plot driven – and thank goodness for that. While there is more to the story line towards the end of the novel, the real grip is in the characters inner workings. McBride makes this prominent in only giving names to those who truly contribute to the story.
By allowing her readers into the minds of those she creates, Eimear McBride demands a lot from readers without any apology. McBride assumes that her readers are smart enough to understand what is going on without needing to explain every little detail. Ultimately, this challenges and rewards those who choose to pick up The Lesser Bohemians.
I would also like to thank Faber & Faber for sending me a review copy of The Lesser Bohemians.