It’s a lie

Colin Burrow

  • Carry Me Down by M.J. Hyland
    Canongate, 334 pp, £9.99, April 2006, ISBN 1 84195 734 8

Both of M.J. Hyland’s novels – only two so far – are written from the perspective of weird adolescents. Both books are strong, awkward and unobvious in ways that get under your skin. How the Light Gets In (2004) presents the world in the first-person present tense of Lou Connor, an Australian teenager who escapes from her family, which is impoverished in every way, by staying with a family in America. She wants to remake herself as an American with nice teeth and a warm bed, and she wants to persuade her host family to let her stay and go to college in the US. She has an abnormally high IQ and a normally low ability to understand her own behaviour. She suffers from sleeplessness and a skin complaint that makes her blush easily, and she also drinks, smokes and steals. All these things drive her away from her shiny American hosts. Eventually she steals and does drugs so openly that she is sent by the (unnamed) ‘organisation’ which set up her exchange to a sort of young offenders’ institute for children who have been thrown out by their host families. Lou specialises in performing actions which hurt people and then writing florid letters of apology and adoration afterwards. She’s certainly weird, and not only does she get under your skin but is preoccupied by doing so: whenever she needs to decide whether she likes someone she asks them what ‘desquamation’ means, and is always disappointed when they don’t share her knowledge of the awful peeling of the skin which beset Edwardian polar explorers.

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