Just over two years ago I decided that, as there must be more to reading than scientific journals and periodicals (my staple literary diet since becoming a pharmacist way back in 1980), I would read a novel. Recently freed from the shackles of the dispensary bench, and with a new-found freedom and time on my hands, I had volunteered at the 2014 Norfolk and Norwich Festival. Everyone was talking about a book by the wife of the Festival's artistic director William Galinsky, a work that had been rejected by almost every publisher in the nine years since it had been written, but had been picked up and given wings by a Norwich-based publisher Galley Beggar Press. That book, which went on to win several awards including the 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, was Eimear McBride's 'A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing'
When, fired up with enthusiasm after my experience with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, I found myself volunteering to help at the Voewood Festival near Holt in Norfolk, I decided to start by reading some works by authors who would be appearing at Voewood. One of those authors would be Eimear McBride, so it seemed obvious that 'A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing' should be my re-introduction into the world of contemporary fiction, and probably the first novel that I had read since my GCSE English list of set books.
Now, anyone who has read 'A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing' will tell you, this stream-of-consciousness account of the first twenty years in the life of a young woman and her relationship with her brother suffering from a brain tumour is a challenging read. Six pages in, and I did wonder whether I would be able to finish it. But continue I did, and suddenly McBride's half-strung sentences and atypical punctuation all seeming to drop into perfect sense, and I was reading without questioning. I had completely tuned into the protagonist's thought processes, and I was hooked. I think I read the whole novel in the space of twenty four hours, and although I found the whole experience emotionally exhausting, it was so,so satisfying. I was once again hooked on reading, and have continued so to be since that day.
Henry Layte, whose Galley Beggar Press first published 'A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing' back in 2013, also owns The Book Hive, a bookshop in Norwich's London Street, a wonderfully eccentric store over three floors which draws you in from the pedestrianised hurly-burly outside, but immediately offers comfort, sanctuary, and a wonderful array of titles. This is no 'Black Books' and, thank God, neither is it a pretentious preserve of the literary cognoscenti. I always feel comfortable, and whilst I never feel under pressure to buy, I almost always do.
It is therefore only right and proper to find that Eimear McBride's follow-up work, 'The Lesser Bohemians', is being launched at The Book Hive, and one hour after most of the other shops in London Street have extinguished their lights and locked their doors, a stream of book-lovers are entering the store. It is cramped inside with so many people jostling for somewhere to sit or stand, it is one of the balmiest evenings of the year, and one could almost describe the conditions as 'uncomfortably warm'. However, such is the excitement over McBride's new work that nearly everybody seems to be clutching a copy, and is waiting patiently for the chance to have it signed. Eimear is relaxed and chatty, and husband William watches proudly from behind the store's counter.
Henry Layte welcomes us and introduces Eimear before hosting a brief interview-styled question and answer session, during which we learn that work on a third novel has already started, and that an audiobook recording of 'The Lesser Bohemians' has already been completed and is scheduled for a November release. Eimear then reads a short section from the book. A planned opportunity for questions from the floor is adjourned purely due to the warmth and lack of ventilation, but Eimear remains to chat individually to all that wish to quiz her further.
I leave with my own signed copy, once again grateful to Eimear McBride for being so instrumental in helping me re-discover the pleasures of reading contemporary fiction, and looking forward to getting started on 'The Lesser Bohemians'.