This is How

This is How

M. J. Hyland, Text Publishing

This might be how … but I’m still wondering why?

Patrick Oxtoby, the central character in M. J. Hyland’s much-lauded novel, makes a terrible mistake that alters the course of his young life. He seems to make the mistake because he can’t express himself and has been in a repressed rage due to his fiancée ending their engagement.

Trying to begin afresh after the break up, he moves to a boarding house by the seaside and starts a new job as a car mechanic, which doesn’t quite work out as he had hoped. It’s after this and some goading by a fellow tenant that he commits his fairly spontaneous, but nonetheless brutal, crime.

Highland paints the details of Patrick’s life so baldly that it’s almost impossible to feel anything much more than a kind of disconnected awe about this young man, who obviously has problems and has grown up in a household and a society where feeling valued and loved doesn’t always come easily.

If Hyland’s point is to say that emotion-driven young men (who don’t always understand how their emotions are driving them or how they might control themselves) can land in a correctional system (containing both benign and brutal sides) which makes only half-baked attempts to reform them, then she achieves this.

With all the hype about how great Hyland is, I’d hoped the book might sing — but to me it felt flat like so much white noise.

This is How may, however, educate some simplistic people about the fact that not all criminals are monsters or unrepentant and that damaged misfits may or may not become more so once inured to the correctional system.

Marjorie Lewis-Jones

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