Book Review: The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

‘The Lesser Bohemians’ is a novel by Eimear McBride, released in 2016. It tells the story of Eilis, or Eily, an eighteen-year-old drama student who moved from Ireland to the hustle and bustle of Kentish Town in London during the 1990s.

This is a story of raw human emotion, which encapsulates the nature of youth. The novel explores how people come together and fall apart, and the immediacy of wanting, and the consequences of wants.

To me, ‘The Lesser Bohemains’ was an immersive, poetic read, raw, emotional and poignant. These pragmatic themes demonstrate the erratic changes that young aspiring artists were thrust into at the time, the temporary nature of gigs, jobs, income and housing, the fleeting nature of romance, and kinship, and the constant flow of new blood into the city as people come and go. The story was reflective with its pacing and its themes, exploring a world greater than the struggling artist, but one that Eily and her classmates were certainly impacted by.

As Eily begins her relationship with the thirty-eight-year old Stephan, a cool, attractive, successful actor, there are glimpses of the macrocosm, into wider society. The accessibility of narcotics and addiction being regarded as a crutch, but also as a taboo, acceptable if its behind closed doors, and keeps you going, but the second you fizzle, and fumble, you’re cast aside as a washed up failure. You hear Stephen’s thoughts on the things that are happening around him, and how he ahs been impacted personally, whether it be the gentrification of his neighbourhood, or his treacherous relationship with his ex, Marianne.

As Eily and Stephan’s relationship grows, you learn more about the two characters, like we are a fly on the wall as they discover themselves and each other through anecdotes, shared moments over tea or toast, or sex. You learn as they do how to hurt themselves and each other and how to be better people and their authentic selves.

I loved McBride’s command of language and how she thrust the readers into this closed-off world and networks of artists in the city. The poetic nature particularly when expressing the raw aspects of being exposed and vulnerable when having sex and falling in love, was captivating and exciting to read, and although the subjects the story explored addiction, abuse, homelessness, molestation and change were often hard to handle. McBride navigated these topics with the tact you’d expect from conversational revelations, navigating trauma with that same can’t-look-away, gripping intensity that you have when you pass a scene on the street and want to know more.

With main characters you see unravel and break down together expressing a rare vulnerability and connection akin to kindred spirits, you find yourself rooting for their happiness, not unlike a friend drunk-dialing you and venting in the small hours of the morning.

I highly recommend this book. It truly emulates reality and offers perceptive takes on what it takes to be alive.

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