Carry Me Down by M.J. Hyland

Carry Me Down by M.J. Hyland

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Trade, 334 pages, 2006

Rating: 10/10

Reason for Reading: It’s a Booker Prize long-lister – and I hope it’s soon to be a short-lister, as well.

Synopsis: John Egan is an eleven-year-old living in rural Ireland, where life isn’t perfect, but he has his beloved Guinness Book of World Records set to see him through the days. When he starts developing an amazing skill of his own – he can detect lies – he becomes fixated on receiving an entry of his own in the record books, and his determination to always expose the truth leaves his family and everyone in his life vulnerable to destruction from truths best left untold.

Why you should read this book: Mesmerizing from the beginning, Hyland places the reader into the fragmented world of John Egan, flitting between full disclosure of his internal life and the disjointed uncertainty of the adult situations around him. Carry Me Down deals with isolation, brutal truths, and childhood cruelties in a subtle manner that will still manage to shake you to your core. You haven’t read a coming-of-age story quite like that of John Egan, but believe me, if you love good literature, you definitely want to pick up this book.

Why you should avoid this book: John is such a real character that it’s almost physically painful knowing that you can’t reach out and help him, so watch the frame of mind you’re in when you start reading. And, on a note of pure aesthetics, here’s hoping you don’t wind up the edition I read (Harper Collins, first Canadian printing) because it contains a shameful number of typos that just shouldn’t be present in such a dazzling book.

Opening paragraph:

It is January, a dark Sunday in winter, and I sit with my mother and father at the kitchen table. My father sits with his back to the table, his feet pressed against the wall, a book in his lap. My mother sits to my right and her book rests on the table. I sit close to her, and my chair, which faces the window, is near the heat of the range.

Fabulous quotes:

‘Now,’ he continues, looking at my whole body one more time, looking me up and down, all the way down and all the way up again, ‘do you feel well? How is your body holding up?’
I open my mouth but all I can feel is thickness in my throat.
‘Don’t be shy, now.’
I shrug, feel beaten. I am nothing. Even an animal can move if it wants to get out of the way of something.

‘Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and all the feckin’ apostles! Not the third degree again. Yes, son. I sleep on the floor to stop from bothering your poor mam so she can get a good night’s rest for work the next day. No other reason! Are you satisfied?’
I was worried that he would be silent, that he might stop telling me things because of my gift. But here he is talking and telling another lie. It took him longer than usual, but here it is. I am certain again. He is lying.

Also recommended: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle; Black Swan Green by David Mitchell; Lives of the Saints by Nino Ricci.

Also by this author: How the Light Gets In.

Author’s website:

Would I read more by this author? Hyland’s first novel has a line from a Leonard Cohen song; how could I not want to read more?

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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