One phrase kept coming to mind as I read this book: “We accept the love we think we deserve.” This quote is from The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and captures the essence of McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians. At the surface, this is a story of a young drama student having a relationship with an older, established actor. It’s almost a cliché – the teenage girl infatuated with an older man who takes advantage of her naiveté.
The difference here is that McBride’s tale forces the reader to be accepting and sympathetic of others’ experience, almost without judgement. It’s raw and disturbing, but that’s what makes it work.
Doubtless many readers will be aware that the writing style is not traditional. McBride writes in snippets, in phrases, short fragments of sentences. It’s not exactly stream-of-consciousness, but this style allows for introspection and first person point-of-view more honestly than the usual straightforward structure. It’s poetic and innovative, and not linear or direct. This writing creates succinct paragraphs without wordy descriptions. Dialogue is not bordered with quotation marks, but is directly inserted into the text. It may be off-putting or confusing at first, but it really doesn’t take long to adjust to this narrative voice. If you’re able to read Shakespearean English, or dialect, or an invented language, such as seen in The Country of Ice Cream Star or Cloud Atlas, then The Lesser Bohemians, though challenging, won’t be too difficult to tackle. Just let your mind go, be free of the burden of expectations, and absorb the words as they appear on the page. You’ll be just fine.
The subject matter may appear harmless – a May/December relationship – but it’s far from innocent. There are uncomfortable, sometimes taboo, subjects in this book. Incest, psychological abuse, drug use, child abuse . . . it’s all in there. It’s reminiscent of A Little Life, but this book is more believable and much better written. The characters are despicable, but they’re real.
I was bothered by the acceptance of psychological abuse as it was treated in this book. The young girl, Eily, allows herself to be cruelly manipulated by her older lover, mostly because she just doesn’t know any better. There is so much drama and on/off in their relationship, such desperation, dependency, and “he loves me and he’ll come back,” that it practically made me nauseous. The reasons for his behavior are made clear, but does that make his abuse and infidelity acceptable? I pity any young girl who reads this book and thinks this type of relationship is okay, or worse, that it’s normal and the best they can expect to have. Sex is used for approval, sex is used for revenge, sex is used for power. Even though there is some catharsis and growth, there remains a horrifying lack of self-esteem in both characters. This relationship is too damaged to be healthy, and McBride’s novel doesn’t address that danger. As an adult, I recognize that fact; as an 18-year-old, I may not have.
I recommend The Lesser Bohemians for those readers who want to experience a different narrative style and can handle difficult issues. I would only recommend it for adults. I prevaricated between giving a 3 or 4 star review. So, 3 stars for the story and 4 stars for the raw, powerful writing. McBride’s first novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, wowed me with her bold use of language. I admire McBride’s writing, and give her kudos for creating a daring story.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
Read more about this author: click here