Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing (Sept.), written in a distinctive, fragmented prose style, has become a cult literary sensation since taking home the Baileys Prize (formerly known as the Orange Prize)—beating out Pulitzer winner Donna Tartt and Margaret Atwood. Not bad for a first novel by an unknown Irish author, originally published by Galley Beggar Press, a small, U.K. independent.
Coffee House Press worked hard to secure U.S. rights, due largely to a serendipitous Twitter moment. Publisher Chris Fischbach’s interest in the book was piqued after Elizabeth McCracken raved about McBride online. “Elizabeth put me in touch with Eimear’s agent,” Fischbach says. “On vacation last summer, I started reading the book. I finished it at the same time as Caroline Casey, our managing director, and we were both blown away—we knew it was something truly original and brilliant.” Fischbach promptly drove to a town with cell phone reception and called McBride’s agent. Less than a year after the deal was signed, McBride won the Baileys—a triumph for her and Coffee House.
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is the story of a young woman’s fraught relationship with her family, particularly her brother, and it tackles abuse and sexuality and trauma in language that’s been described as an “unconscious railing.” McBride has spoken movingly about how important it is for publishers to support serious fiction. “I need my ignorance to be challenged, I need my complacencies to be questioned, and my humanity deepened. This is the work of literature, and for publishers to deny it or disregard it in the pursuit of profit debases the very nature of publishing and betrays the bond between publisher and reader,” says McBride. “The desire for challenging work is, and always has been, there.” McBride notes that her writing was revitalized when she read James Joyce’s Ulysses, a notoriously difficult work that she calls transgressive, authentic, and fun.
Fischbach and the team at Coffee House are in agreement with, and inspired by, McBride’s call to arms for publishers on behalf of writers and readers of serious literary fiction. “This is exactly the niche Coffee House tries to fill in a publishing landscape that often shies away from such work,” Fischbach says, adding “We embrace it.”
“Eimear holds nothing back,” the publisher notes. “She is fearless. When a writer as talented as her is willing to do that, something truly remarkable can happen.”