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


All in this together, or in danger of turning on each other?

Northern exposure

COVID-19 is turning Indigenous communities into a tinderbox

Three disasters, a wedding and a funeral

Reckoning with family in times of drought, fire and flood

Image of Julian Assange

Viral injustice

Julian Assange’s extradition trial continues as an attack on journalism

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 Stormzy

Grime boss: Stormzy

The rapper and MC’s second album ‘Heavy Is the Head’ is another triumphant step bringing black British culture forward

Photograph of Tennant Creek Brio artists by Jesse Marlow / Institute

Desert bloom: The Tennant Creek Brio

The brazen art movement born out of the troubled legacies of substance abuse and dispossession

Cover of jenny Offill's ‘Weather’

Twilight knowing: Jenny Offill’s ‘Weather’

The American novelist brings literary fiction’s focus on the interior life to climate-change cataclysm

Image from ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’

Properly British: Armando Iannucci’s ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’

A multicultural vision underscores the acclaimed British satirist’s endearing Dickensian romp

More in Noted

Image of Eimear McBride's ‘Strange Hotel’

‘Strange Hotel’ by Eimear McBride

A woman unceasingly travels to contend with the inertia of grief, in the latest novel from the author of ‘A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing’

‘Actress’ by Anne Enright

In a theatre setting, the masterly Irish writer considers the melting, capricious line between the truth and the fake

Image from ‘Stateless’

‘Stateless’: ABC

A probing drama about Australia’s mandatory detention regime focuses on the dehumanisation experienced on both sides of the razor wire

Image of ‘The Bass Rock’

‘The Bass Rock’ by Evie Wyld

The Miles Franklin–winning author’s latest novel expands on her interest in the submission and consequential fury of women amid the impersonal natural world

Read on

Northern exposure

COVID-19 is turning Indigenous communities into a tinderbox

Image of Julian Assange

Viral injustice

Julian Assange’s extradition trial continues as an attack on journalism

Image of Sarah Aiken

Wage fright

COVID-19 isolation rules have seen artists’ livelihoods disappear

Opposing forces

Even during a time of crisis, history shows that partisan politics has a role to play