'Lesser Bohemians' Uses Playful Language For A Classic Love Story | KERA News

'Lesser Bohemians' Uses Playful Language For A Classic Love Story

Sep 24, 2016

Eimear McBride's new novel, The Lesser Bohemians, is an old story written in a new way: A May-December romance — or perhaps May-August — between 18-year-old Eily, an Irish drama student who comes to London in the 1990s, and a devilish rake of an older man, an actor, of course, named Stephen.

The novel is full of intricate, imaginative wordplay — and sex that can be similarly characterized — crafted by one of the most imaginative young talents in fiction.

McBride tells NPR's Scott Simon that she herself was once a young drama student in London. "That was really the beginning of the novel for me, remembering being a teenager coming to the big city."


Interview Highlights

On what draws Eily and Stephen together

Well, you know, initially it's just sex. She's young and very keen to lose her virginity, and he's quite happy to help her out — and they begin a casual sexual relationship, and then accidentally find themselves falling in love.

He's a safety net, he's a thing that she falls back on whenever she gets scared, and he's constantly encouraging her to go off and do other things and not be serious about him, right up until they realize that they are completely serious about each other.

On whether we should have sympathy for Stephen

I think so. It begins in quite a stereotypical way — he's the older man, she's the younger woman — but actually, the story changes, and the relationship changes him ... she becomes a person who pulls him back into life. So I think he's a complex character. And he has his faults, and he has dumb things in his life which he is very ashamed of. And that was in a way a point of the book, was to look at someone who felt themselves to be a failed human being, and to see if there was a way for them to go forward.

On what people missed about her work initially

The publishing industry had become quite conservative. They felt that readers were more conservative, that they weren't willing to take a chance on writing that was trying to look at life a different way. And that was a shame, because that was a real underestimation of what readers are.

For me it's all about the reader, and I don't buy when writers are told to write for themselves — because if that's the case then you should just write a diary and put it under your pillow. For me it's always about trying to make a human connection, and what makes me most happy is when a reader says that they found something meaningful in my work.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Eimear McBride's new novel, "The Lesser Bohemians," is an old story written in a new way, a May-December romance - or maybe more May-August - between Eily, an 18-year-old Irish drama student who comes to London of the mid-1990s and a devilish rake of an older man, an actor, of course, named Stephen.

The novel is filled with intricate, imaginative wordplay and sex that can be similarly characterized as crafted by one of the most admired young talents in fiction. Eimear McBride, author of the critically praised previous novel, "A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing," joins us now from the studios of Radio Norfolk in Norwich, England.

Thanks so much for being with us.

EIMEAR MCBRIDE: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Weren't you once an 18-year-old drama student in London?

MCBRIDE: Yes. I certainly was an 18-year-old drama student who came to London months myself in the middle of the '90s. And that was really the beginning of the novel for me - was remembering being a teenager coming to the big city.

SIMON: Well, let me get you to read that 'cause there is so much admiration for your intricate wordplay. Inevitably, maybe, for an Irish writer, it's called Joycean. Could I get you to read a section when Eily first comes to London and to Kentish Town?

MCBRIDE: Certainly. (Reading) Worm in their wormholes - versts of stairs - new eyes battling posters and escalators, I find my way to Kentish Town wind-slapped in the face as the tiles lead round - up though, yes, and to the house.

Tall - taller than I knew. And an old Irish landlady with no T's by now - maybe, in time, that'll be you. No, maybe that'll be me. Her, on her top floor, rules - only one - absolutely no strange men. Show me no lies, and I'll ask you no questions. Oh, yes, of course.

But at the pad off of her slippers, I rattle at my lock then turn about to open wide and touch the room on either side. 3-foot bed of freedom, beauty board walls of delight, streaked nets of the escapee, four floors below, a London street. Unpack knickers, and unpack tapes.

So the first weekend begins like this, here in the homesickless new. And later, under condensation drip from the wall, I still think here is for me, even when auld langers row in the hall - even incandescent piss on the toilet floor. Even so, here I am. And here is for me.

SIMON: Boy, that's beautiful.

(LAUGHTER)

MCBRIDE: Thank you.

SIMON: I'll call it Joycean.

MCBRIDE: (Laughter) I'll take that compliment.

SIMON: And it really cries out to be read aloud.

MCBRIDE: I think so. I mean, I certainly read it aloud a lot as I was writing it. And I know from readers' comments that if they get caught up in it at all, they find reading it aloud just helps them untangle the language.

SIMON: What draws these two together - the younger woman and the older man?

MCBRIDE: Well, you know, initially, it's just sex. She's young and very keen to lose her virginity. And he's quite happy to help her out. And they begin a casual sexual relationship and then accidentally find themselves falling in love.

SIMON: Does becoming such a part of Stephen's life prevent this young woman who's come to London from exploring her own?

MCBRIDE: No. I think, actually, in some ways, he's a safety net. He's the thing that she falls back on whenever she gets scared. And he's constantly encouraging her to go off and do other things and not be serious about him right up until the moment that they both realize that they're completely serious about each other.

SIMON: Should we have sympathy for Stephen in the book?

MCBRIDE: I think so. I think, you know, it begins in quite a stereotypical way. He's the older man. She's the younger woman. But, actually, the story changes. And the relationship changes him.

SIMON: If I may, they almost wind up switching places emotionally.

MCBRIDE: Yeah. They absolutely do. And she becomes the person who pulls him back into life. So I think he's a complex character. And he has his faults. And he has done things in his life which he is very ashamed of. And that was, in a way, a point of the book - was trying to look at someone who felt themselves to be a failed human being and to see if there was a way for them to go forward.

SIMON: How long did it take you to write this novel?

MCBRIDE: Well, this one took me nine years from beginning to end, which is quite a difference to "Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing," which was six months to write and nine years to sell.

SIMON: What happened?

MCBRIDE: Well, with "Girl," there were a lot of publishers who liked the writing but were afraid to take a risk on something that they didn't know how to sell. When it came to "The Lesser Bohemians," it just took me a very long time to understand the intricacy of who these people were and how they related to each other and how to write about them best. Happily, the selling process was much quicker.

SIMON: What do you think people were, if I might put it this way - in the lit biz (ph) - were missing about your work, initially?

MCBRIDE: The publishing industry had become quite conservative. They felt that readers were more conservative, that they weren't willing to take a chance on writing that was trying to look at life in a different way. And that was a shame because that was a real underestimation of what readers are.

SIMON: Who do you write, Ms. McBride?

MCBRIDE: Well, for me, it's all about the reader. And I don't buy it when writers are told to write for themselves because, if that's the case, then you should just write a diary and put it under your pillow.

For me, it's always about trying to make a human connection. And what makes me most happy is when a reader says to me that they found something meaningful in my work. That's who I'm writing for. And that's whose judgment I most worry about.

SIMON: Are you done with Eily and Stephen now? Or are they still rattling around in your soul?

MCBRIDE: Well, you know, I only really finished doing the last corrections in May. And the book is still really alive in me. And those characters are really alive in me. So I think I'm going to continue to think about them, certainly, for a while.

SIMON: Eimear McBride - her novel, "The Lesser Bohemians." Thanks so much for being with us.

MCBRIDE: Thanks so much for having me on. I really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.