To be more specific, I read this while camping on a tiny Andaman island called Koh Lao Liang, sitting with my back against a Tamarind tree. Every time I looked up from this book – which was often – it was to see horizon, limestone cliffs, and the tide creeping in or out over the reef. I mention this not just to gloat, but because if I hadn’t had the privilege of reading this book on an idyllic tropical island I’d probably never have finished it.
I may be over-exaggerating. I probably would still have finished it, but I would have certainly felt altogether different about it. This is a tough read. Not because of the style – which is superb and unique, reminiscent of Joyce without being derivative – but because of the spiralling grimness of the subject matter. The mode of telling is perfectly balanced with the intensity of events: the interior world of the protagonist like a reflective surface bending, cracking and melting. A young woman, her brother’s childhood brain tumour, sexual abuse and vulnerability, and cold, wet, dark landscapes.
I’m not at all surprised that critics have described McBride as “a genius”. It’s extraordinary. I mentioned looking up from it often, because reading it feels so utterly like a deep, dark immersion into another person’s baffling, tormented consciousness; it felt necessary to come up for air.
It is beautiful and awful. If you can’t read it somewhere sunny, make sure there’s someone you can call to pick up the pieces.