Review: Girl by Maria Straw-Cinar (2020)


Mannis Poor is Girl- amnesiac, revelator, mute. On her transformative pilgrimage to the desert she begins to recall what led her to kill. Determined to take back control from those who robbed her of power, she reaps revenge on her attackers, creating a warped fairy-tale world in which she becomes the vigilante Queen. Girl takes the reader through sensory landscapes, fragments of memories and vivid flashbacks of transgressions and transformations. Celtic mythology, alchemy and poetry collide in this tale of lost innocence and a girl’s struggle for freedom from the male gaze, violent desires and bloody colonialism.


Okay, deep breath. From the blurb, I knew that this book was going to be different. I don’t shy away from books that walk on the weird side, which is why I was delighted to be approached by Emma Lee at The Blue Nib, and to receive a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. I don’t think anything could have prepared me, though, for just how different this was. I am still reeling, phrases and words swirling around my head from this fiercely original, earth-shattering book.

I have to admit that at first, I was lost. This book is such an explosion of power and language, each sentence grinding down norms of narrative to a powder, a drug to be snorted, an experience that is more visceral than literary, that for the first few pages I just gazed at the text wide-eyed, Bambi before the hunter’s gun. But as I untensed and let the pulsating prose wash over me, I found there was indeed enough of a narrative thread to carry me along on the waves of Straw-Cinar’s ‘inside-out’ prose. Mannis, our ‘girl’, journeys across the world, finds shelter in the desert, returns to right the wrongs that have been done to her, wreaking revenge on the men who have violated her, half avenging angel, half demon queen. I really did become engrossed in her story, as utterly fantastical and, at times, horrific as it was.

This novel is all about the language. It isn’t like any kind of prose I have seen before. Heavy rhymes, invented compounds, humorous wordplay, surprising pop culture references clutter every sentence, thickly redolent with a poet’s love of sound. I found myself reading many passages aloud, revelling in the kaleidoscopic cacophony that the author creates with her piled-on words. There is violence, brutal and raw, as shocking as blood on the page, and sex, graphically described, but also love, real love, and brief moments of connection, and landscapes and journeys and excitement and action.

Girl comes at you with all guns blazing; a fierce, flaying experience, almost uncomfortably intense. There is something really powerful behind Straw-Cinar’s bending of the ‘rules’ of language, as she pushes the boundaries of prose as far as they will go: you can almost hear the creaking of dams straining under the monstrous pressure of her flood of words. I am honestly not sure exactly who to recommend this to, so I will say this: proceed with caution, certainly, but if you are interested in an intense experience that pushes you as a reader to your very limit, this is it.

Girl by Maria Straw-Cinar is published by Chaffinch Press and is available to purchase here.


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