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Carry Me Down by M. J. Hyland

Carry Me Down (original 2006; edition 2007)

by M. J. Hyland (Author)

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9554021,915 (3.42)99
John Egan is a misfit, a twelve-year-old in the body of a grown man with the voice of a giant. He has been able to detect lies for as long as he can remember and diligently keeps track of them, large and small, in a log of lies. With an obsession for the Guinness Book of World Records, a keenly inquisitive mind, and a kind of faith, John is like a tuning fork, sensitive to the vibrations within himself and his family's shifting dynamics. From his changing voice, body, and psyche to his parents' disheartening marital difficulties, this is a trying year in a fragile young boy's life, and when his sanity reaches near collapse, a frightening family catastrophe threatens to ruin what little they have.… (more)
Title:Carry Me Down
Authors:M. J. Hyland (Author)
Info:Canongate U.S. (2007), 352 pages
Collections:Your library

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Carry Me Down by M. J. Hyland (2006)


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Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
An easy five stars for this one. I innocently picked it up to read over breakfast and my nose didn't leave it until about nine in the evening. I couldn't put it down, despite having too much to do. My perfect novel. It has a story line, and for bonus points starts at the beginning and ends at the end; economic of language, stylistically simple, characters that you can see in your mind’s eye and so, SO real, you’d swear it was autobiographical.

Which, it transpires is somewhat the case. The author comes from the world she describes. She lived in the social housing slum of Ballymun housing estate in which a substantial part of this book is set.

Rather than inadequately waxing lyrical about this book, I am going to reproduce an interview she did for Tin House, in which she reveals much about the writing process and her position in it. I do hope that you click here to see the original: Trojan Mules of Meaning: An Interview with M.J. Hyland. I’m only copying it here, because once burned and all that, I have so many links to wonderful things that become inaccessible.

She’s a profound thinker about the writing process and its practitioners.

https://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpress.com/2017/04/30/carry-me-down-by-mj-hylan... ( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
Pain is much harder on the mind than ignorance.

My head, as though filled with helium, has nothing in it to carry me down to rest, to dark, down to sleep. It is pitch-black and yet there is no darkness in my mind. There is blinding bright day when it should be night.

M.J. Hyland’s second novel languished on my shelf for years. I honestly don’t know why. Last week, it called to me for some reason, and over the last few days it’s riveted me with its dark, strangely compelling narrative about an odd Irish boy. John Egan is a misfit, for sure. For one thing, he’s a giant—nearly six feet tall—and his voice has broken early. According to his mother, he’s “An eleven-year-old in the body of a grown man who insists on the ridiculous truth and who has got into a bad habit of lying.” At first, there’s regular talk of taking John to the doctor yet again to investigate what is evidently some abnormality of the endocrine system. School personnel are also concerned. There are embarrassing exchanges between John and the headmaster about how the physically and socially awkward boy, who stands out like a sore thumb, is getting along. There’s even talk of moving him up a grade, where he might blend in better with the older kids. Psychiatric problems are suggested, but it’s an ongoing challenge for the reader to understand what is really going on with this boy and his family. It always seems possible that John’s unusual thoughts, preoccupations, and impulses are actually adaptations to a highly dysfunctional family dynamic. Reading this book, one enters R.D. Laing territory for sure. (A brutal scene early on in the book, in which his father challenges John to prove that he’s more than “a poor soft lad” by assisting in the hot-water drowning of a litter of kittens (“grubs with fur”) was almost more than I could bear. I very nearly quit right then and there.)

As the narrative opens, it is 1972 and John and his parents are living with his granny in Gorey, County Wexford. His parents, John tells us, are extraordinarily glamorous, and their love story is the stuff of myth. (In order to marry, both Helen and Michael, like movie stars, broke off engagements to others.) Here’s the thing about this detail: it, like so many others John provides, cannot be trusted. As far as narrators go, he could take the cake for unreliability. Still, one can’t shake the sense that everyone else in John’s enmeshed nuclear family is equally unreliable and untrustworthy. There’s a big secret here—possibly many—and the reader is swept along, not by an eventful plot (there isn’t one), but by the desire to get to the bottom of it all, to understand why there’s such a sense of menace.

John, as his father (Michael) observes much later in the book, is “an odd mixture . . . of little boy and . . . grown lad” and it’s sometimes difficult for others to figure out which one they’re interacting with. The boy’s favourite book is The Guinness Book of World Records. The accounts of escape artists particularly captivate him, suggesting that he too wants or needs to break free. John’s goal is to get himself in The Guinness Book “along with all the other people who do not want to be forgotten or ignored.” “I will break an important record,” he vows, “or do a remarkable thing. I don’t see the point of living unless there is something I can do better than anyone else can do or unless I can do something that nobody else can.” Because of the mood that Hyland creates, I almost immediately thought of the teenaged Columbine school shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. But no, that’s not where Hyland is headed.

John decides that he has an extraordinary talent. He’s a human lie detector, which does not mean he himself is a model of truthfulness. In fact, he makes quite a pastime of lying; he also engages in impulsive stealing. To him, there is no cognitive dissonance. He is not a criminal. He sees himself as potentially more sensitive than any polygraph, picking up as he does on changes in the musculature and colouring of a liar’s face, as well as alterations in vocal tone and diction. His own physiological responses alert him. Initially, he vomits (or wants to) when being lied to. Gradually, he gets this reflex under control and attends to other signals that his body provides—an elevation in temperature, for example. So confident is he in his unique gift that he writes repeatedly to The Guinness Book publishers. He is willing to undergo testing, he tells them, to prove he is worthy of inclusion in their book.

Certainly, John’s immediate family provides him with ample opportunity for lie-detection practice. His mother, with whom he shares an abnormal intimacy and whom he tells about his talent, points out that most of what John is detecting are people’s white lies about embarrassing personal matters or socially sensitive topics. As perceptive as John may be, he can’t seem to pick up on the big things. His father, Michael, once an electrician, has been unemployed for three years. In fact, his job loss is what forced the family of three to move in with John’s granny. The boy blindly accepts the story that his father, who apparently gained easy entry into MENSA, the oldest high IQ society in the world, is simply preparing for a place at Trinity College Dublin. Michael spends his days reading obscure texts on phrenology, criminology, and abnormal psychology, rather than making an effort to find gainful employment. John is also entirely unaware of the reason why the family hastily leaves Gorey for Dublin, ultimately ending up in the notoriously squalid, crime-ridden Ballymun highrise tower complex.

In Dublin, John is increasingly stressed, prone to episodes of shouting and physical aggression. After he calls out a lie—an act which threatens to destroy the family—his behaviour becomes plainly pathological. His mother calls the Garda and a social worker transports him late at night to a boys’ home. The housefather there is interested in John’s view of himself “as a bit of a lie detector”. “Did you know,” he asks the boy, “that there are other people in the world who can do this?” He continues: “most lie detectors develop their super-sensitivity to emotion early in life. . . [It] is often due to unusual childhood circumstances. . . many have extremely irritable mothers, or alcoholic fathers, or some other force or presence in their early life that is, or was, unhealthy, unnatural, unpleasant, or extremely upsetting in some way.”

That’s one theory; Hyland provides others. However, she doesn’t give the reader an easy time or an easy resolution. Her dark tale has all the complexity and ambiguity of real life. Carry Me Down is not a book for everyone, obviously, but it is a compelling and impressive work—one of those books whose many knots you want to disentangle through discussion with others. ( )
  fountainoverflows | Jul 17, 2019 |
I was expecting to like this book more as it is set in Ireland and was read by Gerard Doyle who has a terrific Irish accent. It was shortlisted for the Booker in 2006 and won the Hawthornden Prize (a literature prize for imaginative writing by a writer under 41). Nevertheless, the young boy in a man's body, John Egan, who is the unreliable narrator of the book. was mostly annoying and sometimes repulsive to me. The following contains spoilers.

John is twelve years old but big in stature. He is an only child and, when the book starts, John, his mother and his father are living with the father's mother in Gorey. The grandmother invited the family into her house when the father lost his job some years ago. John is obsessed by the Guiness Book of Records, poring over each year's edition for hours. He wants to get into the book and he figures his best chance is with his gift for lie detection. He hones his skill for lie detecting by closely observing his parents who he catches in a number of "white lies". When a physical altercation ensues between the father and grandmother John and his parents have to move to Dublin. They get a flat in a large project which has gangs and drugs and prostitutes. John's mother slides into depression and his father spends the little money that he earns on bookies, liquor and the prostitutes who live upstairs. John catches his father lying about where he has been and tells his mother. She demands her husband leave which is very upsetting to John even though John is much closer to his mother than his father. John has something like a mental breakdown and tries to kill his mother. As a result the family get back together and move back to Gorey. Probably they will all live happily ever after ( )
  gypsysmom | Feb 20, 2017 |
M. J. Hyland’s novel of a young Irish boy growing up in domestic turmoil is poignant, moving, and well-written. If, like me, you suffered similar domestic turmoil in your own childhood, there’s a lot here you’re going to relate to. And I did, not least because the first-person narrator is my namesake.

It takes a special kind of writer to construct a novel so that, in sinking into the sea of prose, you find yourself immersed in the narrator’s world. Hyland’s prose does just that. From the very opening lines, you are in John’s world and seeing things shaped by his own understanding of them or, more often, his lack of understanding.

And there is much John does not understand. This I found so evocative of what childhood is all about. You start life from a place of such supreme ignorance that even when you can look back on those days 30, 40, or more years later, you still really don’t understand what happened. This is especially the case when there are domestic issues that your family are trying to hide from you.

It’s easy for us as adults to recognise the signs in his parents’ relationship and John’s own response to them that indicate that all is not well between them or in the mind of the child. But to John, there is little to go on. That little, though, is enough. John becomes convinced that he has the ability to detect lies in ways that other people simply cannot. Hyland constructs the novel so very well that even though your adult side says that it’s surely just an emotional response to his doubts about the stability of his family life, there’s still a little child inside each of us that hopes that what John believes is really true. Thankfully, we never get a definitive answer.

John’s family are forced through their circumstances to leave their rural Ireland and relocate to Dublin and that’s where things start to go from bad to worse. The anxiety and stress of their new life affects each of the them in turn but your view is constantly coloured by the fact that you only get John’s point of view.

So many authors successfully create the childhood viewpoint but then forget that even six months in a child’s life is a decade to an adult. Hyland does not. Instead, she does a great job of creating a flow of development of John’s thinking and emotional response throughout the novel. I found this fascinating. At the same time, you see his relationships with both parents also change, particularly in the aftermath of certain crises.

I would have enjoyed this novel a lot in print, but this is a great example of how audiobooks can just add an extra dimension to literature. I listened to this on Audible and absolutely loved the thick Irish accent of Gerard Doyle. ( )
  arukiyomi | Dec 17, 2016 |
I was instantly engaged and finished the book quite quickly. John, a mentally handicapped young boy lives in a rural area in Ireland with his grandmother, mother, and father. His father, disappointed in life and the circumstances in which he finds himself and his family, assaults his mother, who tells Michael’s family to leave. They do and take up residence in a dreary, low income housing project in Dublin, where John is beset by bullies and worry over his mother who has fallen into a deep depression. Eventually, John is sent to a juvenile detention centre but within days is released into the care of his parents who have been invited back to live with John’s grandmother. The story ends flatly with significant unresolved issues which will return to haunt them all. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
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M. J. Hylandprimary authorall editionscalculated
Doyle, GerardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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It is January, a dark Sunday in winter, and I sit with may mother and father at the kitchen table.
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John Egan is a misfit, a twelve-year-old in the body of a grown man with the voice of a giant. He has been able to detect lies for as long as he can remember and diligently keeps track of them, large and small, in a log of lies. With an obsession for the Guinness Book of World Records, a keenly inquisitive mind, and a kind of faith, John is like a tuning fork, sensitive to the vibrations within himself and his family's shifting dynamics. From his changing voice, body, and psyche to his parents' disheartening marital difficulties, this is a trying year in a fragile young boy's life, and when his sanity reaches near collapse, a frightening family catastrophe threatens to ruin what little they have.

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