Wednesday, July 04, 2007

be careful what you wish for

Thursday, September 21, 2006 at 11:40 AM BST

Carry Me Down is the simplest novel so far on my Booker reading list. And at the moment I am still unsure if that is its strength or its weakness.

It tells the story of John Egan, and the results on him and his family from his uncanny ability to detect when someone is lying. We see those around him lie with alarming regularity - sometimes in the name of protecting him, but more often to protect themselves.

‘I wait for the sound of the stone, but it doesn’t come back down - at least, I don’t hear it land - and I stand in the laneway, puzzled about where it might have gone. And still the stone doesn’t land, and I smile at the sky.’

Before reading I think I hoped for a fantastical tale of his adventures, but got something much more solid and sad. You come to realise how many lies are told to children. You recall the childhood innocence of mostly believing what you are told. You mourn that John has lost this - his gift is his curse. You ponder what you would do if you were blessed with his gift for just one day. And with dawning horror you imagine the results…

‘It is as though my brain has decided to run its own dark film with the volume on high; a film of bad thoughts, of bad memories, and every thought is worse than the one before it, and nothing will stop the film from running.’

M. J. Hyland writes with a measured pace that reminds me of many Irish novels I have read. Nothing is rushed - there is time to talk, time to think. She gives a piercing portrayal of the mind of a child - the things they notice, the obsessions they focus on. This novel is not trying to be clever. It is not trying to wow us with descriptive prose or fancy reasoning of the mind. It just tells a story. And if the Booker judges are still receptive to novels that just tell a story, then this stands a fair chance of winning.

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