As with Septimus Smith in Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, the narrator in Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing, or the Alan Turing variant Alec Pryor in Murmur by Will Eaves, we experience Ash’s thoughts as an unmediated stream of consciousness. But her thoughts are less a stream than a treacherous weir, where the flow of the present and deeper pools of memory churn so violently that readers who don’t watch their step risk being lost.
With the coiled compactness and intensity of a short story, Slip of a Fishis a strange and original novel – only in the later phases did Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing come to mind, but it draws more perhaps on Marguerite Duras’s nouveau roman works and Jon Fosse’s Aliss at the Fire (to which Ash alludes frequently). Slip of a Fishis a book more interested in a good sentence than a well-wrought plot. There are no clear answers, no narrative over-exposition and a deft avoidance of over-dramatic revelations and climaxes. Any truth is endlessly deferred. This doesn’t always make for easy reading, and the voice can be patience-testing.
Take a deep breath before you plunge into this story; you’ll need a certain amount of patience, if you wish to keep afloat. With this, her debut novel, Arnold has won the inaugural Northern book prize, and I can see why: the work is original, ambitious and challenging, submerging the reader in the strangeness of an anomalous mind, an aqueous medium where language is refracted into mazes of shifting meanings... The reader tries to swim along but is perpetually floundering, especially when sentences and episodes repeat. We need stronger clues and a clearer sense of onward momentum.