This is the kind of love story that will make you fight for it, the kind that will break your heart and mend it all at once. At every step of the way, it will make you feel that you’re alongside the characters cheering for them or sharing the same doubts as their love progresses. The Lesser Bohemians is a story about regret, love, and the value we give to the past.
A young Irish girl arrives at a new city, excited about the idea of living in vibrant London and starting drama school. In a bar one night, she meets a man almost twice her age. At first he’s not very committed to her, but what starts as a one-night stand becomes some-thing much more, something that will teach them about themselves and revisit painful memories.
The past is another character in this book, often interweaving itself with the present love story. The young Irish girl and the unnamed actor bring baggage to the relationship. Both have been mistreated by the adults in their lives, and as the relationship progresses their backstories are revealed. But this is not the only thing that the reader learns, and as the characters acquire names and the story speeds up, the evolution of the characters is revealed. One of the most impressive things about this novel is its capacity to transcend genres; The Lesser Bohemians is as much a coming of age story as it is an incredible romance and a tale of redemption.
The novel begins in a stream-of-consciousness, challenging the reader to decide where the story starts. We’re inside her head, we learn her doubts and trepidations and how she reacts to what he is telling her. As the story unfolds, the language becomes less fragment-ed, as the character’s thoughts become clearer and the direction where the author is lead-ing us is more evident.
McBride’s language is a perfect fit for the painful revelations of the middle-aged actor. It is as if McBride was choosing not to reveal the secrets of her characters until they were ready to reveal them themselves, making it easier for them and for us to make sense of their unlikely romance. However, he is not the only one who struggles. She also struggles to adjust to her new life and deal with the challenges of being with an older man. There are moments of confusion and hesitation on both parts.
McBride narrates their sexual encounters with astonishing precision, at first clumsy and awkward and then intimate and warm. The sex described in their book is unpredictable and often leaves the character and the reader wondering where it could take them. And often it is full of vulnerability, taking them to dark places where they fear they won’t be able to find each other.
“I have no faith in the night or the morning either and cannot believe how this day dares glow all up to Kentish Town. Past Kwik Save. The steps off Patshull to where I live. To where I live. I live there and know that now. Every bit of you lives here.”
McBride has been called one of the major contemporary novelists and it is easy to under-stand why. Her prose is incredibly vivid and engaging, a recreation of everyday life and most importantly, of the human experience of loving someone. “Standing up later we pick grass and daisies from our hair,” she writes. “Linger for a moment over the city arrayed. Come on, he says, arm around my waist. It’s time to go.”