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on 16 August 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
MJ Hyland has written a disturbing and insightful novel which shows how one young man on the margins of society, with emotional and psychological issues, finds the boundaries of world narrowing further and further until it ends, as it must, in one room with one other person. The protagonist, Oxtoby, is flawed by his inability to develop meaningful relationships with other people - from the guest house where the novel begins, and through the institutions which follow, you always fear the worst for him. The first person perspective gives the book a claustrophobic feeling as he loses himself, his freedom and his relationships with others, but there is a great deal of dignity in his behaviour and the ending, at once shocking and inevitable, hints that he may yet find a kind of redemption.

A sensitive and thoughtful novel, sparely and fluently written, which suffers only a little from slowing down in the midsection.
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on 8 August 2012
"This is How" quickly and craftily establishes an insidious grip on the reader. Once begun, it's hard to stop reading. One senses that something is going to happen, but it's hard to know what, or when. It is set in a drab, seaside town. There's a bed and breakfast, a cafe, a couple of pubs...all ordinary and very familiar, but described in a subtle style and language that skews and infects, leaving the reader unsettled: everything is as it should be, but something is very different and very wrong. The same is true for the characters that inhabit the novel. The boarders at the b and b, the landlady, the waitress, the concerned mother...you wouldn't look at them twice in the street, but here, in this world, every phrase and action is given a sinister alternative, while at the same time remaining perfectly normal. And at the centre of the story is a unique and everyday everyman, a nothing and very much a something.
I finished the novel in two or three sittings. Before I did finish it, however, I bought Hyland's other two novels.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Patrick Oxtoby is the narrator and his life and thoughts are the focus of this novel. His fiancée has broken off their engagement as the novel commences, and he has arrived at a seaside boarding house to try and build a new life. Hyland writes brilliant prose, much of it interior thoughts or speech, and we the reader go through the actions and thoughts that Patrick experiences first hand through the first person narrative.

It becomes evident that he is, and has been, a lonely person, with just a couple of friends at school, a brother who he wasn't close to and who seems more close to their parents and is married, and a failed attempt at University behind him. Now in his twenties he is a good car mechanic, but the place where he gets a job doesn't have enough work for him due to also training the bosses' nephew, which leads to more anger and unhappiness within Patrick. He is struggling to connect with others and find a place in the world. He tries to venture out on his own, but as we see with the boarding house proprietor and the other guests, he is uneasy and constantly worrying. He wanders around the town, drinks in the pubs and eats in the café where he forms a brief acquaintance with a woman, but the little happiness it brings him becomes magnified in his own head, and leads to him making assumptions about other meetings between them that the reader can sense are never actually going to take place.

It seems that whatever he does, it is destined to end badly, and his thoughts bring him down. He broods over his actions and words, and those of the people he is involved with. Ultimately his unsettled emotions lead to an act that will change his life and take much of his indecision out of his control. This pessimism and uneasy atmosphere pervades the novel. There are moments of hope but always tinged with sadness and regret. This is a well-written, different and moving novel by a talented author, a female getting inside a man's head, and despite the tragic subject matter I am glad to have read it.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
'This is How' tells of the deterioration of a man's life, to the point where he crosses the line from normality to madness. Patrick Oxtoby (Ox) leaves his home after his relationship breaks down, and moves into a boarding house to begin a new life for himself. He quickly becomes drawn to the landlady, so much so that he sees himself as her protector. There are other men staying in the boarding house, who try to include Patrick in their lives. Patrick doesn't trust anyone, looks for the ulterior motive in everything that is said and done, and is a deep, disturbed person. Ultimately, his demons drive him to commit an act from which there is no walking away, and he has to pay the price.
This is an eerily compelling book, quite disturbing in the way it portrays Patrick's descent into madness. It is extremely well-written, and also very demanding on the part of the reader, as it requires total concentration. On the surface, Patrick seems to be an ordinary young man, but upon digging a little deeper, he is revealed as being anything but. His relationship with his parents is called into question, and the lengths that people will go to in order to maintain a simulation of the perfect, happy family is revealed. It's an uncomfortable book, but one that leaves it's imprint on the mind of the reader. Recommended.
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on 25 July 2012
After reading and rereading Hyland's "How the light gets in", about an Australian exchange student's tragic trip to the USA, I couldn't wait to order her other top novel.

Hyland is a great describer. Both of places - the unnamed remote seaside town "somewhere in Britain", where the story begins and where you can almost feel the sea air - and characters too, making us feel we're right in there at the scene of action - or crime in this case.

Hyland immediately wins us over to her main character Patrick, despite his cold-blooded, yet accidental killing another man, after a silly dispute about a stolen alarm clock. It's impossible to not to will him away from his impending fate of life-long imprisonment.

Just near the end when it seems our helpless hero's luck may be changing - that he may released on good conduct - the story takes a tragic turn.

As a teacher I also recommend it to non-native learners of English, as a lot of the novel is made up of short dialogues, making the story fast-moving and quite easy to read.

"This is how" is a true page turner and will keep your suspense throughout - right up to the shock ending.
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on 27 February 2013
Maria Hyland is a superb writer, with a great prose style. Why this novel didn't make it to the Booker Prize defeats me! It is beautifully written and compelling. It's the kind of novel you will be recommending to all your serious reading pals. With a fresh emphatic prose style that picks the reader up and rushes them along, this wonderful novel deserves wide exposure and a large readership. Sympathetic, elegant, and sensitive. Hyland has been close to winning many awards, and this is perhaps her best novel. She is the author of three multi award-winning novels. How the Light Gets In (2003) was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize; Carry Me Down (2006) was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and was winner of both the Hawthornden and Encore Prizes (2007), and This is How (2009), was longlisted for both the Orange Prize and the Dublin International IMPAC Prize in 2009. Hyland's short story, Rag Love, was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award in 2011. J M Coetzee wrote, 'Fiction writing of the first order' and Hilary Mantel wrote, 'When you've been reading Hyland other writers seem to lack integrity; she aims straight for the truth and the heart.'
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VINE VOICEon 11 July 2012
I find it quite hard to evaluate this book. I found it disturbing and bleak but very well written. Patrick, a misfit, failed fiance, failed student leaves his home to go and live in a small seaside town. We have access to his thoughts so it is immediately apparent that this is someone who has real difficulty in relating to other people. It is this difficulty in reading other people that leads him to commit his crime, one for which he has no real remorse. His sorrow is mainly for himself as he perceives that he has been wrongly punished. The second part of the novel where he starts to serve out his time in prison is an indictment of the criminal justice system. Someone like Patrick will have little chance in prison and the details of what happens in prison are familiar but no less horrific for that.

This is a book which will stay with you and that is something you may not welcome. But if you want a thought provoking read, then I would recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon 26 February 2012
I bought this after reading MJ Hyland's interview with the 'Cat Bin Woman' in the Financial Times last year (search for it - well worth a read). Hyland was chosen on the strength of this book - essentially because she showed an understanding of how events could spiral out of control, and how people could feel lost in the centre of a storm.
I really enjoyed the book. I felt strong empathy with the main character, and I loved how events were piled on top of other events, creating a very claustrophobic tone. It's very, very sad, and the final pages will stay with you for a long time.
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VINE VOICEon 26 June 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
MJ Hyland has an unusual fondness for violent misfits. In her excellent novel Carry Me Down (2006), her pubescent protagonist John Egan learns the hard way that covering mummy's face with a pillow won't necessarily make her any happier. Now, in This Is How, Hyland presents the story of Patrick Oxtoby, a down-and-out mechanic in a seaside town who turns out to be a kind of Raskolnikov tribute act. In a drunken rage, poor anger-prone Patrick learns the hard way that clobbering someone with a wrench can have serious consequences.

The publisher seems oddly reluctant to tell you that this is a book about the aftermath of a violent crime, referring only to Patrick's "tragic undoing" and supplying a pretty little cover with a man and a dog. In reality, this misleadingly advertised novel is a compelling and macabre journey to the dark side of human existence.

Like Carry Me Down, This Is How is told through sparse, present-tense, first-person narration that rattles along at a crackling pace, capturing Patrick's shock and vulnerability as events spiral rapidly beyond his control. The result is a gripping, readable and surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of a memorable antihero.

Patrick protests his innocence on the grounds that he never "intended" to do anything wrong. "My mind played hardly any part," he tell us, "but my body acted and, as far as the law is concerned, my body may as well be all that I am". Is there some truth in this "don't blame me!" determinism? This is the central issue the novel explores.

Personally, I'm not convinced. Anger, loneliness, loss of control, ignorance, drunkenness... these are causes of violence, but not excuses. We don't have to let our irrational bloodlust get the better of us. When we do, we're responsible for what results. It's left to the reader to decide whether Patrick deserves to be held accountable for his horrific deed. If you read it let me know what you think.
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on 1 May 2011
This author really knows how to write dialogue -- credible and spare. Some of the descriptions of characters and rooms were brutally vivid. You really get sucked into the mindset of the anti-hero, and I'd recommend this to anyone who likes a dark but page-turning read.
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