The Lesser Bohemians
by Eimear McBride
Genre: Literary fiction
Age: New Adult/Adult
Published: Faber and Faber (September, 2016)
An eighteen-year-old Irish girl arrives in London to study drama and falls violently in love with an older actor. This older man has a disturbing past that the young girl is unprepared for. The young girl has a troubling past of her own. This is her story and their story…
Set in the mid 1990s, The Lesser Bohemians is truly stream-of-consciousness narration at its most brazen. In fact, it took me a good while to make almost any sense of the prose at all and it’s true that I had to convince myself to see the book through to its end. However, once I got used to McBride’s style, I realised that the novel was made all the more authentic as a result.
Eily is an 18-year-old Irish drama student who moves to London for school. Soon after starting, she meets 38-year-old established actor Stephen and their romance quickly ensues. Both characters have troubled pasts and it is in the sharing of these pasts and their brokenness that they find one another.
It’s not often that a reader can truly inhabit a character’s mind the way McBride allows us to inhabit Eily’s. All her rambling recollection of events adds to the protagonist’s sense of youth. She is in such a rush to relay her story through love and exasperation, it’s as though she doesn’t have time to complete her thoughts before she moves on to the next one. Herein lies what I find most endearing about Eily, but this isn’t to say that I didn’t reach this point without some confusion.
The most confusing part for me was how un-young adult the prose read. There is something inherently old fashioned about the way that McBride writes. True, there’s nothing wrong with this, but when it’s supposedly coming from an 18-year-old girl something feels off. I found myself becoming angry at some of the decisions she was making and then I thought to myself, wait, she’s 18, of course she’s gonna make some stupid decisions.
So, then I wondered why I was becoming almost irrationally angry with her and it’s because she narrated with a much more mature voice. Granted, this could be because she’s telling the story a number of years in the future and is by default a much more mature person, but I feel that McBride perhaps misses the mark here in that she is not telling the story from a middle-aged-woman’s perspective, she is telling it from a teenage girl’s.
Having said that, the story is wonderfully intimate and deserves to be recognised for its stripped-bare honesty irrespective of its structural difficulties. For this reason I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.
The Lesser Bohemians forces the reader to comply with the protagonist’s thought process in a way that I have not experienced before and whilst it didn’t quite move me to tears, I certainly appreciated the homage to old-fashioned romance and first love.
If you’re looking for a challenge and are thirsty for a romance that blossoms out of the darkness, look no further than Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians.