cover image The Lesser Bohemians

The Lesser Bohemians

Eimear McBride. Random/Hogarth, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-101-90348-3

McBride’s second novel is more ambitious than her acclaimed debut, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, and it retains the uncompromisingly Joycean brogue and diary-like intimations of adolescence that made that first novel such a success. Set between 1994 and 1995, it follows 18-year-old Eily, a boozy ingénue, as she leaves her native Ireland to attend drama school in London. There, caught in whirl of excess and the shadow of IRA terrorism, she is mostly assigned stereotypically Irish bit parts, but finds herself captivated by a much older actor named Stephen, an ex-junkie estranged from his family and young daughter. Initially meeting without names, they embark on a tempestuous relationship that reveals the worst in both while offering Stephen a chance at redemption and Eily a future. But the real focus is McBride’s stream-of-consciousness prose, in which drinking is rendered as “pints turning telescope,” “the lightless hall sings sanctuary from the frenzy” of a violent encounter, and a night of youthful debauchery leaves the revelers with “Satan under every skin. Skinful under all our skin.” The story (especially when Stephen’s backstory hijacks the narrative) isn’t full enough to sustain McBride’s style, which comes to seem less and less an accurate shorthand for first love. Still, this sophomore effort is striking enough to continue McBride’s forging of a daring career. (Sept.)