Tuesday, October 4, 2011

This Is How

It is difficult but not impossible to claim M J Hyland as an Australian author. She doesn’t live here. She wasn’t born here. Only a small part of one of her novels takes place here. So those of us who would insist on calling her an Australian may need to rely on the fact that she spent part of her life here, and studied law and English at The University of Melbourne. This Is How is her third published novel, and like the first two, is written in the first person present tense and focuses on the life of a young person who is more than usually different from others.

In How the Light Gets In, Lou Connor, a teenage Australian exchange student, dreams of leaving the family with whom she has nothing in common, and finding acceptance in middle-class America. She sets out only to find herself living with a family whose apparent perfection lacks any real warmth. Lou cannot help rebelling against the stultifying parameters set by her host family the Hardings. However, while brilliantly written, the book is less convincing and less complete than the two that followed.

Carry Me Down, told from the perspective of 11-year-old John Egan, follows John on his quest to have his gifts as a human lie detector recognised in the Guinness Book of Records. When his family moves from the small Irish town of Gorey to Dublin it becomes clear that there are larger and more painful truths to be detected than John had ever realised. Hyland’s many great qualities as a writer (apart from her obvious knack for choosing wonderful titles) include her ability to convey the importance of young people’s concerns. Adult realities float into the consciousness of this excellent novel like sounds heard under water.

In This Is How, Patrick Oxtoby is a skilled mechanic who heads for a seaside town, a hundred miles from home, after being dumped by his fiancée. Lonely, awkward, anxious, and plagued by a difficult relationship with his father, Patrick sets about trying to start a new life, make new friends and meet new girls. To tell much more of the story would be to spoil it. Suffice to say, this book is capable of slicing into its reader with the deftness and facility of a very sharp knife. You won’t know what’s happening until it is too late. A modern Australian classic.

‘I got to thinking that Sarah had only been practising on me, getting her confidence in sex and romance and gathering up some extra nerve so she could move to another man. I got to thinking that I’d filled her full of hot pride, that she’d saved it up to use against me.

She said she was breaking up with me because I didn’t know how to express my emotions. Thing is, I didn’t have that many. As far as I was concerned, it was pretty simple. I was in love with her and I liked our life and we laughed a lot and it felt so good to be in bed with her and have her touching me. I liked what we had.’

Life isn't a novel. It's lots of novels, one after the other.