Coffee House Press debut novelist wins Baileys Prize

  • Article by: LAURIE HERTZEL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 11, 2014 - 7:19 PM

Irish writer Eimear McBride beats Donna Tartt and Jhumpa Lahiri for the award.

Eimear McBride Photo by Jemma Mickleburgh

The prestigious Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction — formerly the Orange Prize — has gone to a debut novelist whose book was steadily rejected by publishers for nine years. The book finally was published last year by tiny Galley Beggar Press in London and will be published this fall by Coffee House Press of Minneapolis.

Eimear McBride’s “A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” was selected over “The Goldfinch,” by Donna Tartt, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and “The Lowland,” by Jhumpa Lahiri, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award.

“A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” is the story of a young woman and her relationship with her brother, who has a brain tumor. The girl’s father abandons the family, her mother retreats into Catholicism, an uncle abuses her.

Coffee House Press publisher Chris Fischbach said McBride’s book floored him when he first read it, “not only by the powerful story, but by its urgent, assaulting syntax, which is both relentless and engrossing. By the time I finished, I was spent: artistically, emotionally, spiritually. I had never read anything like it.”

McBride’s writing can be difficult, at first, for the reader to penetrate; the book is written in long blocks of fragments with sporadic punctuation. The Star Tribune review, which will be published in September, calls it “brave, dizzying, risk-taking fiction of the highest order.”

The Guardian called it “jaggedly uncompromising in both style and subject matter,” and Irish novelist Anne Enright called the book an “instant classic” and its author “a genius.”

McBride’s award follows a number of significant awards won recently by Coffee House Press authors, including Ron Padgett’s “Collected Poems,” which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award, and Patricia Smith’s “Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah,” which won the Wheatley Book Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets.

The Baileys Prize carries an award of $50,000 and goes to the best novel written in English by a woman. Originally known as the Orange Prize, the award ended briefly in 2012 when Orange telecommunications ended its sponsorship. Baileys Irish Cream now sponsors it.

The other finalists for the Baileys Prize were “Americanah,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Undertaking,” by Audrey Magee, and “Burial Rites,” by Hannah Kent.

Laurie Hertzel • 612-673-7302

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