Oof. This wasn’t a pleasant ride, friends, and I DNF’d at page 80, something I am really loathe to do unless a book is not enriching my life whatsoever. That said, there’s some strong points to this sensuous, experimental novel, and I want to give them their due.
The Lesser Bohemians is told from the point of view (deep point of view, you might say) of an eighteen-year-old Irish girl who moves to London to study acting in the 90′s. There she meets an established actor in his late thirties, and the two fall into bed together and being a tortuously on-again, off-again affair of sex, frustration and reconciliation, healing, and harm.
The steam-of-consciousness style narration is much more accessible than other times I’ve seen it used, although it took me until about page fifty to really settle into the dreamy, internalizing rhythm. McBride’s done something really wonderful here with dialogue and action all running together, and the narrator’s personal thoughts slipped furtively in between in smaller print. It’s a feat, and she ought to be given credit for it.
That said, the narrative style keeps the reader suspended between raw euphoria and drunken disorientation, which made the constant barrage of meaningless sex, blackout nights, substance overindulgence, repressed vulnerability, and screamed betrayals incredibly unpleasant for me. At almost 100 pages into the narrative there seemed no light at the end of the tunnel of alienation, compulsive behavior, and budding addiction. I would hype myself up to finish the book and then only get ten or fifteen pages in before getting so upset that I had to put it down because the secondhand sexual shame and impostor syndrome were too strong. However, that sort of visceral reaction is a testament to the books main strength: entirely immersive storytelling. You’re as close to this narrator as fiction is liable to allow you to get, and you experience all her anxieties and hopes in your own body, adrenaline and all.
This DNF isn’t a mark against the strength of McBride’s writing. The beautiful prose just wasn’t enough payoff for the subject matter, but that’s not to say that will be true for every reader. Maybe McBride’s next novel will pair her astonishing talent for voice with a story I find more worth telling, and I can give her another shot then.