July 2009

Arts & Letters

‘This Is How’ by MJ Hyland

By Michael Williams

Dread is, perhaps, too strong a word, but from the first page of MJ Hyland’s new novel, This Is How, it is hard to resist a mounting sense of unease. Fans of Hyland’s earlier work will quickly see parallels. At the centre of Carry Me Down, her Booker short-listed second novel, was John Egan, a difficult, troubled boy. In This Is How, she is drawn again to an emotionally inarticulate character, brimming with wounded fury and frustrated sorrow. Once again she gives us the intimacy of the first-person voice, the immediacy of the present tense. And Hyland has again produced a masterful study in claustrophobia and loneliness.

In a small boarding house, somewhere on the English seaside, young Patrick Oxtoby is in the process of moving in. He is leaving behind his parents, an aborted university degree and a failed engagement. When he spares a thought for his former fiancée, his mind is black with disappointment, even a hint of violence. Hyland keeps all proceedings so close to her protagonist that his paranoia, his anxiety, is ours.

When we meet him, Patrick is late. He has had a couple of drinks to steel himself against meeting new people. He carries a toolbox. In halting bursts he makes uncomfortable small talk with the landlady, Bridget, whose polite manner hides past hurts of her own. He meets the other two men in the house and immediately struggles to make any connection. He sits in his room, waiting to join the world.

To say too much about the ensuing plot would do the reader a disservice: this is not exactly a pleasurable read, but its rewards come from the slow unfolding of events, the small hopes and sudden, sickening disappointments. Tragedy feels inevitable, even if the form it will take remains elusive for much of the book, but this isn’t misery-mongering or melodrama. Far from it. Hyland, always a beautiful writer, approaches her subject with such a dry matter-of-factness that it’s hard not to empathise with Patrick – to hope that maybe, somehow, things will end well.

Cover: July 2009

July 2009

From the front page

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller

The prevention state: Part four

In the face of widespread criticism of strip-searches, NSW Police offers a candid defence of preventative policing: You are meant to fear us.

Image of Scott Morrison

A national disaster

On the PM’s catastrophically inept response to Australia’s unprecedented bushfires

Image of Scott Morrison

A Pentecostal PM and climate change

Does a belief in the End Times inform Scott Morrison’s response to the bushfire crisis?

Police NSW festival

The prevention state: Part three

As authorities try to prevent crimes that haven’t happened, legislation is increasingly targeting people for whom it was not intended.


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Faith Bandler & Paul Robeson

View of Steels Creek from kitchen window, February 2009 © Daniel Cleaveley/Wikimedia Commons

Why we weren’t warned

The Victorian bushfires and the royal commission

‘Figurehead’ by Patrick Allington

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

A gay old time


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Cardi B

Bodak moment: Pop’s decade of superstars

Cardi B delivered the song of the decade as a new league of superstars overcame the significance of bands

Photo of Liam Gallagher

Don’t look back in anger: Liam and Noel Gallagher

As interest in Oasis resurges, talking to the combative brothers recalls their glory years as ‘dirty chancers, stealing riffs instead of Ford Fiestas’

Conversion on the way to Damascus by Caravaggio

Damascene subversion: Christos Tsiolkas’s ‘Damascus’

The literary storyteller’s latest novel wrestles with the mythology of Christianity’s founder, Paul the Apostle

Cover of Peter Pomerantsev’s ‘This Is Not Propaganda’ [detail]

Agents of chaos: Peter Pomerantsev’s ‘This Is Not Propaganda’

The Russian expat journalist wonders if democracy can survive the internet, as social media is used to promote feelings over facts


More in Noted

Utagawa Yoshimori, The Tongue-cut Sparrow [detail]

‘Japan supernatural’

The Art Gallery of NSW’s examination of Japan’s centuries-long artistic traditions depicting the spirit world and the macabre

Cover of ‘The Topeka School’

‘The Topeka School’ by Ben Lerner

The American author’s latest novel canvasses the seething hate speech of the burgeoning alt-right and white-boy rap battles in the Midwest

Image of ‘Wild River, Florida’

‘Civilization: The Way We Live Now’

The beautiful photographs of often grim subjects in NGV Australia’s exhibition raise questions over the medium’s power to critique

Cover of ‘The Testaments’

‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

The Booker Prize–winning sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is an exhilarating thriller from the “wiliest writer alive”


Read on

Image of Scott Morrison

A Pentecostal PM and climate change

Does a belief in the End Times inform Scott Morrison’s response to the bushfire crisis?

Image of Scott Morrison

A national disaster

On the PM’s catastrophically inept response to Australia’s unprecedented bushfires

Image from ‘The Truth’

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s ‘The Truth’

The Palme D’Or winner on working with the iconic Catherine Deneuve in his first film set outside Japan

Image from ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’

Four seasons in 11 days: ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’

Céline Sciamma’s impeccable study of desire and freedom is a slow burn


×
×