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."
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.