Book Review: The Lesser Bohemians

The vibrant energy of 1990s London. A year of passion and discovery. The anxiety and intensity of new love.

Upon her arrival in London, an 18-year-old Irish girl begins anew as a drama student, with all the hopes of any young actress searching for the fame she’s always dreamed of. She struggles to fit in—she’s young and unexotic, a naive new girl—but soon she forges friendships and finds a place for herself in the big city.

Then she meets an attractive older man. He’s an established actor, 20 years older, and the inevitable clamorous relationship that ensues is one that will change her forever.

REVIEW

Magnificent, somehow. To give in. Wreck yourself so completely. The beauty of it.

I confess, this was an impulse buy after trawling through Waterstones one rainy day in September. I liked the cover, the blurb sounded enticing and exciting enough so I snatched it up knowing next to nothing about its author, Eimear McBride.

It was a bit of stop-starter. I began it in May, wide-eyed and full of hope. Within seconds, I realised that McBride wasn’t a fan of writing traditional prose. Admittedly, it took me a few pages to get into the stream-of-consciousness structure spewed out on the page and at times it got quite challenging. As poetic and gorgeous at it was, offering up many a highlightable gem, I felt it was sometimes tough to discern who was talking during the dialogue moments.

Early on, I was intrigued. Behind the poetic prose lurks one hell of a dark plot. Sadly, it just takes awhile to get there. McBride lulls you in with vivid descriptions of London and the lifestyle and in the process creates almost a sort of nostalgia, a yearning for 1990s London. At the start, it’s your standard come of age structure. Girl is desperate to lose her virginity, meets a much older actor reading Dostoyevsky in a pub and an intense and confrontational relationship ensues. It’s full of sex, drugs and booze – in fact, for the first hundred or so pages, I was worried we’d never move on from sex, drugs and booze. I suppose we never truly did, but it becomes less your in-your-face and with more emotional gravity.

The phrase 0 to 100 is the best way to sum up this novel. Initially, you think it’s just going to be Eily and the actor bloke shagging and quarrelling. Then, before you even know it, actor bloke’s pouring his heart out and The Lesser Bohemians takes a far more sombre route. McBride delves into the backstory of actor bloke, who we surprisingly find out is called Stephen more than halfway through the novel, and his struggles with an abusive mother throughout his young adulthood and how this impacted his relationship with his estranged daughter and her mother who suffered greatly as a result of his addictions. Stephen’s ramblings thankfully adopt a more conventional storytelling structure, but still maintains the dramatic power McBride established at the beginning.

It’s a confusing read. Not one that I would recommend willy nilly to just anyone due to the sheer complexity of it. It took me a few tries to get into McBride’s writing, putting it down for weeks upon end and returning to it later. I was eventually able to see the rather brutally haunting beauty in it and this story of these two tortured soul, but I fear it’s one that won’t resonate with a wide audience because of McBride’s prose and structure.

RATING
★★★★

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