“This is How” by M. J. Hyland

“This is How” by M. J. Hyland  (2009) –  376 pages

 M. J. Hyland has a way of penetrating the minds of her main characters that goes deeper than most writers.  With her short sentences and exact details of their daily lives at the moment, Hyland allows you to see clearly what is going on inside the minds of these persons, and it is not always pretty; sometimes it is ominous.

In “How the Light Gets In”, we are in the mind of a sixteen year-old girl exchange student from Australia living in Chicago.  In “Carry Me Down”, it is a twelve year old Irish boy whose mind we enter.  In “This is How”, it is a young English man named Patrick who is just starting out on his own independent life.

Speaking of exact details, I’m not going to reveal details about “This Is How” except to say that the novel starts out in a boarding house in England. 

Suffice it to say that “This is How” is a fine novel that will leave you totally involved with the story.  So M. J. Hyland has now written these three excellent novels.  Leave it to me to suggest to Hyland a major change to the structure of one of her next novels.  Let me elaborate.

In each of her three novels she has gone deep inside the head of her leading person by showing his or her life in detail.  The central conflict is within the head of that one person.  This has been a very rewarding technique for her and us, but it is time to try something a little differently.

I would like to see Hyland develop two main characters, each of whose minds she probes.  This could be done with alternating chapters between the two persons.  At some point within the novel, these two people would come into conflict, and we would understand exactly why since we know what is going on inside each person’s head.   Each of these persons could have a valid world view, but the detailed circumstances of their lives would cause them to clash.    

I’m not going to make any suggestions at all as to the setting of the story or the details of the lives of the protagonists.  So far Hyland has excelled in showing the conflicts within one individual.  I would love to see her use her same technique to delve into the conflict between two individuals. 

She also should work on her book titles a bit.


12 responses to this post.

  1. LOL Tony re book titles. They certainly are hard to remember. I’ve only read This is how, and loved it. I recently heard it read on the radio (well, I head bits of it) and the reader did the voice perfectly for me. If this is how (oops!!) she’s done three books now, change might be good – though it’s not necessary. Some writers can work with similar style and material multiple times (Jane Austen, Anita Brookner are two who come to mind) and still engage readers while others regularly mix it up (say, Margaret Atwood, Peter Carey) nd engage us partly be keeping us on our toes.


  2. Hi WhisperingGums,
    I will say LOL to you as I kept writing ‘How It Is’, then having to correct it. Might be the worst title ever.
    I don’t propose that she change her method, still get in the head of the main character, but have two main characters so that there is external conflict rather than mostly internal conflict. Can you see Jane Austen so focused on one person? Of course, Hyland is not Jane Austen, vive la difference.


  3. Loved the review, I have this book on my shelf will pick it up soon 🙂


  4. Where did you find that picture of Hyland? I have read a number of her books (not this one) and that stare seems to say everything about what she does.

    I do like your recommendation. She is certainly capable of a more ambitious approach — I’d love to see her try.


    • Hi Kevin,
      The picture was a standard picture of M.J. Hyland that was in Google images many times, so I decided it was safe to use. Yeah, I just thought that even though her novels have so far been rewarding, it would be a step forward to try something else without changing her style of writing.


  5. Posted by kimbofo on February 14, 2011 at 9:23 PM

    I’ve just an extract of her next novel which is published in the Dec/Jan issue of “The Monthly” magazine. It’s about a married working-class couple who have a kinky idea about having sex in the penthouse of a cruise ship! It’s told from the point-of-view of the husband, who is nervy and strange and convinced that everyone looks down on him. It will be interesting to see how the story develops, and given it’s about a married couple perhaps Hyland will indeed do what you say: tell the story in alternate chapters from both points of view.


  6. Hi Kimbofo,
    I’m happy to hear that Hyland has another novel in the works, something to look forward to. It sounds fascinating. It would be difficult to write about a couple without getting inside both their heads.


  7. Posted by Kelly S on April 15, 2011 at 12:49 AM

    I just finished this book and loved it! I couldn’t put it down. Stories about prison life typically don’t interest me much, so I was a bit worried when I realized that most of the book takes place in prison. But Hyland does such a great job of probing the minds of her characters, like you say, that it really doesn’t matter where they are.


  8. Hi Kelly,
    That’s one of thie things that makes this book so powerful. It seems quite unexpected that he’ll end up in prison for life. He’s a pretty typical young guy up until that point. Hyland really does get inside her characters’ heads. I hope she comes out with another novel this year.


  9. Posted by KellyS on April 30, 2012 at 3:08 PM

    Thought I’d update and let you know that I just finished reading Hyland’s “How the Light Gets In.” I liked it, but felt the story dragged on in the second half. I had a hard time empathizing or sympathizing with the main character and her constant grievances — even though I had my own exchange student experience as a teenager. It seemed to me like she had a pretty gracious host family, and she was the problem! “This is How,” on the other hand, gripped me through the entire book.


    • Hi Kelly,
      And here I thought that the story of the teenage exchange student from Australia in Chicago would be your favorite. Yes, she is kind of a pest, but still a somewhat typical teenager. I suppose one’s reception of Hyland’s books is related to the order you read them. It appears that people like the first one they read the best, because that is their introduction to her style. You may still like ‘Carry Me Down’ which is about an 11-year old boy in Ireland.


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