Combined Reviews: This Is How by M. J. Hyland

this_is_how.JPG Review of This is How
M.J. Hyland
Text Publishing

From the Publisher's page

From the author of the Man Booker-shortlisted Carry Me Down comes a novel of remarkable power and resonance.

When his fiancée breaks off their engagement, Patrick Oxtoby leaves home and moves into a boarding house in a remote seaside town. But in spite of his hopes and determination to build a better life, nothing goes to plan and Patrick is soon driven to take a desperate and chilling course of action.

This Is How is a mesmerising and meticulously drawn portrait of a man whose unease in the world leads to his tragic undoing. With breathtaking wisdom and an astute insight into the human mind, award-winning M.J. Hyland's new book is a masterpiece that inspires horror and sympathy in equal measure.


Justine Jordan in "The Guardian": "As in previous novels, Hyland tells her story in a supercharged present tense, tremblingly aware of physical detail; the book is heavy with dialogue, yet we are never told about tone of voice, while actions are continually observed from the outside rather than experienced from within (the most striking example of disassociation being the times Patrick hears himself speaking aloud). The reader, as a result groping for emotional bearings, enters fully into the tension of Patrick's inner self, his claustrophobic sense of being subject to the physical world yet isolated from its meaning. He can apprehend events, but not how they are connected. In its most extreme form, this dislocation is to be his undoing...Bleak yet moving, mercilessly dispassionate yet shot through with kindness and wit, it is a profound achievement."

Julie Myerson in "The Financial Times": "I confess I read on hoping that this mystery might be solved for me. How and why did Oxtoby end up like this? Is it to do with his mother, his family, or even that much referred-to toolkit of his? Why did he drop out of university? I wondered whether all the ominous clues that Hyland had scattered might finally amount to something, and explain why an awkward but apparently benign social misfit became a murderer...But novels are strange beasts, and you can't always know how one is going to affect you. I finished This is How feeling slightly short-changed, disappointed that I'd somehow been denied a solution to the mystery that its author had set up...Three or four days later, however, Hyland's white-hot prose was still smouldering in my head and I found myself intensely, almost helplessly, moved by Oxtoby and his tragedy."

Lucy Atkins in "The Times": "There is no fanciness to Hyland's prose. Everything -- first person, present tense -- is controlled and precise. In the second half of the book, Patrick's claustrophobic world becomes unutterably grim, but it never feels less than completely real. If you are looking for light entertainment, this is definitely not it. But when it comes to social complexity and nuance, Hyland is compelling."

Jane Shilling in "The Telegraph": "Hyland mentions Albert Camus as one of her literary inspirations, and Oxtoby shares with Camus's Meursault - and with a rogue's gallery of literary anti-heroes, from Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov to Sebastian Faulks's Engleby -- a deformation of the personality that isolates him from the banal warmth of ordinary human discourse. But he lacks the existential hero's grandiose sense of glee at his separateness. Every word of Hyland's narrative ---observed with the bright, deranged precision of a Richard Dadd painting - resonates with Patrick's tragic awareness of what he lacks."

Rebecca Starford in "Australian Book Review": "Patrick Oxtoby is sure to resonate with audiences. But there is a sameness about his character that will disappoint some readers. Hyland has not ventured far from safe territory and once again navigates that bewildered interiority that has become her trademark. Familiar, too, is the grim, grey social milieu. It would have been good to read a more strenuous examination of this world, about which Hyland is clearly equivocal, and to learn how this contributes to Patrick's development; but this element remains ill defined, and as with How the Light Gets In leaves an impression of superciliousness which may be unintended."

Short Notices

Bruno Moro on "": "Written in the first-person, Hyland begins by describing the minutiae of daily life in small-town Ireland, only to then tackle the big themes -- justice, responsibility, morality, salvation -- the list is as long as you want it to be. More importantly for me, there is a delicate emotional line that runs through -- we somehow grow to care for this awkward, flawed protagonist, even when we perhaps should not."

Anita Sethi in "The Independent": "This is a compassionate, disturbing novel, tragically showing a human learning to appreciate life only when his own has been incarcerated."


The book has its own dedicated website.

The author discussed her novel with Ramona Koval on ABC Radio National's "Book Show".

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on August 3, 2009 10:47 PM.

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