Greater than a story: The Lesser Bohemians by Eimer McBride


When many hear the world “Ireland,” thoughts of many  rise with tedious predictability: border, violence, sexual repression, drunks.  Eimear McBride’s new novel, The Lesser Bohemians at once engages and shatters these stereotypes.

McBride uses the modernist style to bring the reader inside the self of her main character, Eily, as the 18-year-old woman crosses her own borders: from childhood to independence; from Ireland to England; from innocence to experience; from loneliness to love.  Her language  and insight are at times obscure but more often breathtaking, bracing and brilliant.  The reader experiences the world of Eily from inside herself, almost as if the reader has become a dissociated personality of the character.   McBride captures the essential nature of being young, unschooled, and protected but venturing into a wider world filled with the beauty of unknown art and literature, the challenges of education, and the hazards of sexual innocence.   Eily asks herself, when she visits an art gallery “Seek to feel but think instead and wonder if that’s wrong I’m a God’s fair innocent after all when it comes to galleries too.”; and the reader is immediately returned to one’s own initiations.  Eily in the initial stage of the novel is searching for her identity:”  Why am I. Why am I not. Where’s even the way to could? I’m not lost. Or not lost much. Lonely. It is that and I don’t know what to do.” As she moves through her first months at a London Drama School she acknowledges: “tried by the weight of all I don’t know.”

As she moves through that first year away from Ireland and engages in a relationship with a man whose name is not revealed until well into the novel, a famous actor, more than twice her age, constricting his life, nonetheless, to an untidy bedsit, Eily confronts her own demons: “Thy will be done. Satan under every skin. Skinful under all our skin.”  Her sexual initiation begins from a place of fear and shame” To spite myself, for him,  To hurt myself. I open my thighs saying Lads, do anything. Nothing matters and it is nothing…Shame fuses to silence letting the night maraud.While like watching TV, I watch. , killing bit by bit the useless hope of not being this girl I was. Am. She is…” And yet, Eily continues the journey of transformation from a shy Irish girl of the 1990’s (“Ireland is what it is. Sealed in itself, like me…”) into a woman who enjoys and even needs sensual and sexual fulfillment:  “Strange to my skin, him kissing somewhere else. Stranger to be on the outside, recreating its taste…”  Another achievement of McBride in this novel is to write with ferocious clarity about Eily’s emerging sexuality and her pleasure.

McBride moves to a more conventional narrative style, without losing the poetic cadence that appears natural to her, as the novel explores the love story itself. Perhaps, McBride is allowing her prose style to reflect  how Eily has moved from her lonely confusion and sense of isolation into  the satisfactions and pathos of an actual relationship which must exist or fail to exist on more levels than the purely physical or sensual.  Eily is permitted to articulate her own wisdom, “the opposite of love is despair” while retaining her haunting perception.  This transition of narrative style creates a less thrilling engagement of the reader but does not diminish the work.  Instead, McBride has creatively employed narrative technique to amplify the characters experience.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. Notwithstanding, McBride’s novel remains, to date, my reading highlight of the year.



Whose face it was I saw today, white vapors collected amid clearest blue,  skyward atop crashing sea?  Was it delirium of sunlight allowed the fleeting visage in that overhead expanse? Tender face filled with pain but calling, no, not crying, and was it to me alone, or others, likewise pleasuring in the autumnal generosity like a summer day? I could see you, but could not hear your call above thundering waves, so high and white, magnificent, delivering surfers and their boards  to all the seagulls and plovers to whom the  sands have been returned for these many days and weeks and months to come – nor do I know your face.  Can there be, already and so soon,  so many friends, I need to look to faces in the skies for they are vanished from the places we so loved and only I still walk upon?

Years, decades, last century, a small child by her bicycle in a deserted alleyway, bleeding from a tarnished fender and discarded glass among the stones and brambles and the broken asphalt, the urban garden, watched vapors gather into a beatific vision, so filled was her little mind and heart and sense of candlelight and choirs and the scent of sacred incense.  She stood shaking in the wintry wind defying expectations until darkness, encroaching, goaded her to, disappointed, cycle home  breathing earthly air and living still.

More near, upon the blackness of a distant shore at the edge of western history, she spied another face within the mottled skies and heard the songs of that peacock sea brimming then with promise that if she closed her eyes and studied not the skies or surf or volcanic stones spinning urgently beneath her, but the swell of her own heart and mind, the sounds of her children playing, she could find justice, a companion and a guide, like the shifting vapors, fleeting to discern, and yet essential.

for love of god

for love of  god, so many slain across the miles and still today.  the zealot in his practiced way keeps holy all the corners of his world.  sunup, sundown, midday, midnight, a ritual, a code that can be known, recited and repeated and recorded and itself revered, as if it,the ritual, the code, the canon of those things that must be holy, delivers sanctuary.   the holy man will never hear the gnashing of the teeth and tearing of the flesh upon the battlefields or in the tenements and old age homes or on the streets even in the curtained dreams of the powdered and the pampered congregations that flock to the worship halls, the temples and the churches giving of their riches or their poverty to something certain that they may  clutch through the long and frightening nights and desperate days when wars are fought for  love of god.

for love of god, she is cast away, among the shunned, her name not spoken; no other creed can be for them as good as their own: any children born will not be blood of this family, though they have the same dark crescent shape in the brown color of  the eye.  nearly, above all else, family is  holy, to be honored, gloried, cherished manifest power and security, prosperity, unity,the living demonstration of the goodness of the natural order. no forgiveness, only banishment, for she who chose to take a step away, to give her love,to break the code, to make a life with one who has a different creed, to place her own happiness, her self, above community, above the love of god.

for love of god, he held the light of life within his hands and then ended it.  piously, he spoke the words he learned when he became a man, calling out all honor and praise to the powerful being, but secretly he was shamed,  he felt the thrill of power and of control. absolution:  all those days and nights he had fevered in fear; all the times he had watched, helpless, as the enemy had unjustly harmed the innocent in his way.  a life extinguished. power gained. wealth advances.  absolution. all those many days and nights provisos of the creed disregarded, an act, a life, a gift, for love of god.

for love of god, they gather at the wedding and the funeral and the birthright. the first estate takes center stage and recites well-known verses ascribing meaning to tired phrases that sound old and common. in chic hotels, in firehalls, in cemeteries, in cozy parlours, the great moments of a life are clouded by the creed.  the preaching zealot distracts, frightened that he is without words to reach these primal moments, for in his time of rehearsing and rehashing and reshaping his ritual, he has abandoned the essence of connection and of living for his love of god.


the meadow


it was only when i gained the clearing, i noticed i had lost you.

stones and rocks disguised the trail,

forged a grainy weave

leaden rock against  scarlet leaf,

 periwinkle stone glistening in the sun

 like a mislaid bead of tanzanite. 

regard for a misplaced step grew greater than  wonder at  abundant life along the tour.

acoustic ambrosia, aural hypnosis

 medley deep of forest life

it’s true. many voices harmonized early conversations.

 fatigue, strain, disquiet silenced notes of song until the silence became accompaniment.

in the silence i never noticed you had gone.

 now i stand alone in the meadow.

of course, i can continue on my own.

but the sunlight urges forgiveness.

will you walk with me once again.

Looking in

dance hall

I do not remember the color of the walls,

or whether  windows were squared or arched as light gained entry.

I cannot recall the height the ceilings reached,

but I remember feeling very, very small.

I see that place, always, on a grey day in winter,

when  naked sentries, aging walnut trees, tower and spill,

the grounds haphazardly attired with twigs and ice and remnants of decay.

The architecture arrests,

reaches towards the skies, billows towards the city,

soiled  white stucco, sandstone, a fortress,

here in this park of urban land:

a haven for the immigrants,

the wanderers, the homesick,

the ones who come and linger as though they  arrive from some other  time and world.

And for the likes of me,

the small and watchful child of such as these.

Though I tread lightly through these halls which echo


with a voice I cannot speak,

a tongue I do not know,

songs I may have heard, but with studied intent,  have not been taught.

I am like a shadow.

Or a figment.

This place is like a dream sometimes.

When I stand aside the squares of parquet that form the dance floor,

 smell the powder and the perfume and the pomade upon the heavy hair,

I hear the swish of the wide, swinging skirts, stiff silk swaying,

keeping time with the scratch of shirts, the slide of shoes,the faint tingle of jewels,

a underbeat to the third-rate band.

I see the faces, hot, red, still lined with worry,

though eyes are closed and lips control the smile;

Bodies, stiff and proper and respectful:


I see a swell of pride –

It courses through the sea of bodies, crammed together, so formal on that floor,

like a cold stiff wind, it invigorates, it braces.

I watch love, congealed and messy,

not a pink froth cotton confection tied with bows.

Not just age and generation,

not merely language and the style of speech,

more than jewels that sparkle,

or  a song list canon

or deportment –

I stand apart, because I am

Not truly one of them at all.



The Back to School Aisle in the Grocery Store

back toschoolSliding from the fancy roadster with the light-colored leather seats, I  dash into the shop, careless of the time of day and season of the year.

Like a panther lurking,  feelings gnaw, snap sharply with strong teeth, the pain spreads quickly from my heart  to each unsuspecting nerve within my body.

I enjoy again your tiny hand, so gentle, soft and trusting within mine;  fingernails, not quite clean, ice cream stains still tracing  near happiness.

Your lively eyes, wide with wonder, perceive the judgment  you must make tonight for times of  rain and snow, through golden days of autumn til the springtime gives you release again to summer.

Which color shall you choose, the rainbow of spring or the child’s bold primary colors? No prince or princess engages you. But shall you choose some other player to consort with  at meals?  Or, shall some mix or shape, and stain and form, instead,  foster your gentle and precocious imaginings?

With intensity,  you deliberate; like a diplomat  commencing  peace negotiations.  I honor your  bravery and intelligence:  the belief, still living, in a perfect choice.

Again,  the softness of  your hand disarms me.  More  exquisite, smooth and tender  in my memory, no doubt, than ever truly known. And the sweetness of your scent, unwashed after a full day of summer play: chlorine and french fries, sand and dirt,  sweat and river water.  Lingering, the smell of morning toothpaste and jelly from the sandwich that I made; your friends at play, their evening soap, and your brother’s brand new sneakers. And the dog.  All of you trotting just behind her  late this afternoon.

Rather,  a physical blow to the powerful tear of memory.

(Is this just the in-between time?  The days when you have gone into the world and we are all adventuring? Will other days inhabit time with other life and visions?)

Satisfaction and fulfilment.  Clarity: my existence has a meaning when your existence is such perfection.  Perhaps, not truly generosity. Perhaps only covetous love celebrates dispensing someone else’s need…

Tears,behind the eyes, closed throat perceive the absence of the little hand.

Clatter of a shopping cart and the moment fades.

The store chills.  Evening recedes.  I  purchase and resume my solitary journey home.

late stage summer



This, the sluggish time of summer, bemusing in the trace of recent splendour: verdant, periwinkle ,Titian, beryl and gold,  beguiles ambition, seduces passion, as if extravagance and spectacle were spent.

An endeavor to evoke, in these late and steamy days, faded landscapes ablaze and  eloquent once more –

The air cooled and the countryside crackling with fierce shades of color; an intense and earnest conversation, engaging, addictive.



Missing You

Sometimes, when deer and rabbit, raccoon and woodchuck recede within the generous mantilla of summer, and warbler and cicada celebrate the close of another day, the light that falls from that searing scarlet scalds my heart with the sadness of missing you, who first presented this array.

Scorch of fire as puckered lips graze the coffin; seething tears trickling onto steel; staggering, as strains of “Danny Boy” levitate above you (a tune you did not call an Irish air).

In the end, too true:  arid canon of cult, not creed, coheres the torpid keeners corroding your wonder.

Eyes reach no focus, colors run together; the  stranger  with fraternal blood, too cold, or suffocated in the sun,  speaks. That Holy Man,  the turnkey, postures with your offspring jailers; swelter, perspire, steadfast mien of heartbreak, every one.

The burned flesh on my heart, throbs and blisters. Pain pulsates with each steady beat. We love, we learn, we are often less than worthy.  The arabesque we make, so rarely fine.

In the sun soaked stillness of a summer evening, so many poses, so many words remain to speak.     2013-10-05 07.19.58








‘Chocolate Cream Soldiers’

“Independence? That’s middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.” ― George Bernard Shaw

Fourth of July on a Canadian village stage, gunshots not fireworks assail the senses. The imagined war, prefiguring the Great War that began 100 years ago this summer, occasions fantastical combat.  Humor, wisdom linger in the theater. WHAT MYSTERY! His mind conjures a stinking, filthy runaway from combat scaling the Shakespearean balcony of the privileged flower of womanhood. Byronic beauty, her modesty, her romantic distraction are the soldier’s shield, his protection. Cream chocolates, not bullets, replenishment for the return to war.

What uses are cartridges in battle?

Soldiering, my dear madam, is the coward’s art of attacking mercilessly when you are strong, and keeping out of harm’s way when you are weak.”


Imagined in an age before the western world became intimate with the sound, images and everyday commerce of the slaughter of war, ARMS and a MAN seduces with comedy. The play is wise. This early Shaw is not yet so enamored of his own voice as to clutter his comedy and stultify his style with  the detritus of his didactic ego. Sage appreciation of human emotion combines with a satiric cynicism that still allows understanding.

This relatively early play of Shaw, currently in performance at the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario mocks rather than condemns militarism.   Sergius, is a “hero”, for the failure of the opponent’s weaponry.  The aristocrat, Petroff, the ranking military leader of the Bulgarians, roars, a comic character.  Society’s glorification of war and patriotism is pilloried in this play.

‘nine soldiers out of ten were born fools’

Arms and the Man

“Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it….”

“War does not decide who is right but who is left.”

― George Bernard Shaw

The rapid changes and resulting peculiarities emerging from modernization of society, industry,commerce,and international relations also endure Shaw’s analysis.  His “Man”,  Bluntschli, the ‘coward’ we initially encounter escaping the battlefield, arrives later in the play, distinguished, handsome, astonishingly efficient.  Not only is he headed back to his native Switzerland, appreciative that he holds the high honor of “free citizen,” and accomplished in matters military and administrative, this merchant soldier, unburdened with ideology, but gifted with efficiency, now develops troop movement plans for the Bulgarians, the  battlefield “enemy”  so recently fled.  This task had overwhelmed the aristocratic leadership Petroff and Sergius.  Shaw playfully questions whether the benefits of “progress,” from mechanization of households with servant buzzers and buzzing clocks to national armaments truly advances humanity. Or, not?

“We shouldn’t have been able to begin fighting if these foreigners hadn’t shewn us how to do it”

Act II, Arms and The Man

Two other major themes of Shaw’s life and work are realized in this play as well:  class politics and sexual politics, in equal measure seen as of an antithetical nature. Shaw parodies the romance between the social equals, the wealthy young woman and her ordained suitor who do and act as each expect the other should, and convince their world,themselves and each other they are deliriously “in love.”  Stilted language and exaggerated stage instruction enhance the enjoyment.  A cross-class romance, wherein the servant beguiles the master to marry her, amuses although the audience perceives its shocking character in the social constriction of the day.  And the pragmatist who has abandoned all romance, philosophy, and blind creed, wins the Byronic heroine, finally, to the apparently inexorable  gladness and admiration of all.  In the end, Shaw allows us to see the age of the modern days of the “real,” displacing old idealism, but we do so, gently and without pessimism.

“everything I think is mocked by everything I do.”

 “I have to get your room ready for you: to sweep and dust, to fetch and carry. How could that degrade me if it did not degrade you to have it done for you?”

 “As for her, she’s a liar; and her fine airs are a cheat; and I’m worth six of her. “

“When you strike that noble attitude and speak in that thrilling voice, I admire you; but I find it impossible to believe a single word you say.”


To Welcome a New Life

Just after midsummer, a new baby will be born.

Love penetrates the heart  before the eye discovers. Already,unknowing, I have selected  a fine, wide cloth, now waiting adornments. The tapestry as yet unknown.

Joy, anticipating him….

I cherish his velvet skin, delicious, pure for so brief a time. The tiny fist so tightly clenched inspires the effort of living.  His baby smell, effervesced, but still sublimely sweet, exhilarates.

Hair matted against his face, heat of day too much;  his sweat, as all his little life,  extreme.

Whispers of wind, (or call of birds? ) rattle giggles from him.  His busy, boundless journey remains singular, for a time.

He and I do not share blood, or cells or chromosomes.

But he is kindred, still.

Will the unspawned babes of my own young grow up with him,  grasping vibrant  mantle of childhood in accord?   Will attic rooms reverberate each season once again, snickers, shrieks recalling silly scenes of the holiday table? Will summer tents contain their giggles and their shouts when scary stories are unleashed in the darkened wood? Will they  join with him, the oldest one,  when they  denounce the demons of the life they find themselves confronting?

Or will this baby merely be, first, the infant,then, the child, and finally, the man  I love dearly from afar, whom I know not well enough to fill my life?

Time holds the answer and it will be one way or other other.

Joy.  Expectancy.

Now I apprehend his weight, his  warmth, the soft pattern of his breathing.

The reminder, once again, that we can be our best selves, sometimes, when we allow ourselves to simply live.

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