An eighteen-year-old Irish girl arrives in London to study drama and falls violently in love with an older actor. This older man has a disturbing past that the young girl is unprepared for. The young girl has a troubling past of her own. This is her story and their story.
The Lesser Bohemians is about sexual passion. It is about innocence and the loss of it. At once epic and exquisitely intimate, it is a celebration of the dark and the light in love.
I’ve thought a lot about The Lesser Bohemians in the past couple of weeks, partly because I chose it for the inaugural meeting of the book club I started with my university friends, and partly because it’s a book which needs to be thought about in order to engage with it.
McBride’s ferocious writing style is disparate and dissolute, her stream of consciousness fragments ensuring that she is not just telling you the story, she’s throwing it in your face at all times. As the narrative unrolls into the hedonistic Skins-esque world of 90s London, Eily (apparently McBride doesn’t like writers to reveal the name in reviews, so sorry!) falls passionately and violently in love with an older man.
As dark secrets and histories are revealed, the one thing that is clear is both characters’ fragility and obsession with each other. I’m not condoning a seemingly unhealthy relationship with someone 20 years older, but you do kind of root for the couple and as a reader try to understand their need for one another, however unhealthy and misplaced that might be. There’s also a lot (read: A LOT) of sex, which takes a while to deconstruct and translate from McBride’s abstract and intense fragments.
There’s a lot going on in the book and it was definitely a writing style that took me a while to adjust to. I also found the sudden switch as Stephen told the story of his past quite jarring as it took up seventy pages of a lot more cohesive prose in the midst of what is an essentially a deconstruction of language and grammar. There’s a similar instance later in the novel where the mother of Stephen’s daughter tells a long story in a similar fashion and I think it just breaks up the narrative in a bit of a weird way.
It was a book that divided our reading group along the hate/love lines, but I think I must fall somewhere in the middle. I really enjoyed reading The Lesser Bohemians, however much I shuddered at the horrible parts and got annoyed with Eily’s predictably self-destructive behaviour. It didn’t feel so much of a story as an immersive experience, and I really appreciate that it is different from a lot of fiction out there at the moment.