Carry Me Down
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Carry Me Down

2.8 9
by M. J. Hyland

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John Egan is a misfit — "a twelve year old in the body of a grown man with the voice of a giant" — who diligently keeps a "log of lies." John's been able to detect lies for as long as he can remember, it's a source of power but also great consternation for a boy so young. With an obsession for the Guinness Book of Records, a keenly inquisitive mind,…  See more details below


John Egan is a misfit — "a twelve year old in the body of a grown man with the voice of a giant" — who diligently keeps a "log of lies." John's been able to detect lies for as long as he can remember, it's a source of power but also great consternation for a boy so young. With an obsession for the Guinness Book of Records, a keenly inquisitive mind, and a kind of faith, John remains hopeful despite the unfavorable cards life deals him.
This is one year in a boy's life. On the cusp of adolescence, from his changing voice and body, through to his parents’ difficult travails and the near collapse of his sanity, John is like a tuning fork sensitive to the vibrations within himself and the trouble that this creates for he and his family.
Carry Me Down is a restrained, emotionally taut, and sometimes outrageously funny portrait whose drama drives toward, but narrowly averts, an unthinkable disaster.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A spare, piercing testimony to the bewilderment and resiliency of youth, Hyland's second novel (following How the Light Gets In) filters the adult world through the distressed lens of adolescence, which makes every change look like a test of survival. John Egan is an extremely tall 11-year-old boy living in the small town of Gorey, Ireland, with the moody triumvirate of his mother, father and grandmother. As he faces the trials of home and school life, John feels he has no place in the world, and his frustration fuels odd obsessions: with the Guinness Book of World Records, with physical human contact and with his "gift" for detecting lies. His parents, already sorting through their own uneasy relationship, puzzle over their only son with doctors and teachers, pushing John to a moment of crisis, which may prove his undoing. John's voice is singular and powerful throughout: "I wait anxiously for my turn, thinking that he'll soon discover me and know that I'm different. I've already decided that I'll tell him about my gift." By the subtle, satisfying d nouement, one is rooting for John's place in the Guinness book and saving a space for him among the year's memorable characters. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT - Nola Theiss
Set in Ireland in the 1970s, this novel's main character is John Egan, an 11-year-old who is almost six feet tall. The story is told completely from John's point of view and that view is very narrow, so readers are forced to bring their own understanding of what is really going on in the adult world surrounding John. Like the burden of his precipitous physical height, his emotions seem to have beset him too soon as well. The story begins with John living in the countryside with his father, mother and grandmother; as seen through his eyes, his life is almost suffocating. He begins to believe that he is a human lie detector and destined for greatness, but his actions seem almost autistic. When he is embarrassed by wetting himself in school, when his parents are forced to move out of the grandmother's house to a poor apartment in Dublin and then his father moves out, John cannot cope. He does something terrible, which forces him and his family to face the facts of his peculiarities and the danger of not dealing with them. It also brings the family together again, and while there are signs of hopefulness about John's future, he remains very troubled.
Library Journal
Reminiscent of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, this work is a worthy successor to Hyland's critically acclaimed first novel, How the Light Gets In. Set in 1972, the novel relates the moving and troubling tale of John Egan's 11th year. Egan lives in Gorey, in southeast Ireland, with his mother, father, and grandmother. They coexist in a tenuous domestic peace threatened by resentment between the adults and Egan's confusion about others' shifting expectations of him. Hyland credibly evokes Egan's agony in a plaintive, perplexed, resolute, and, at times, smug voice. Convinced that he possesses the "gift of lie detection," Egan tests people to prove their truthfulness. Yet he himself stretches the truth in order to defend himself and exert some control over swiftly deteriorating personal circumstances. Egan's truth experiments ultimately culminate in cruelty and violence. Whether his family's love exonerates Egan remains ambiguous, but he does revise his rigid notions of truth to include the necessity of omission and the grace of leaving some things unsaid. Recommended for public and academic libraries. John G. Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A child-man is ripped by forces beyond his control. Set in the Irish countryside circa 1972, Hyland's narrative begins as 11-year-old narrator and only child John Egan, home from school for the Christmas holiday, begins to notice a change in his parents' interactions with him. John has grown alarmingly large for his age, nearly as big as a man, and his beloved mother, a community puppeteer, no longer wants to coddle and kiss him. His father is unemployed and reads philosophy all day, hoping to take exams at Trinity in Dublin. As a result of his lack of income, the family has to move in with Granny, a greedy, disgusting creature who aims to spend her inherited money rather than give it to her kin. John, who devours the Guinness Book of World Records and believes he can set a record himself as a human lie detector, catches his family in a series of falsehoods: Granny gambles and hides the money she wins, all the while plotting to eject the dependent family; his father sleeps on the bedroom floor and harbors secret feelings of shame and anger; his mother tricks John into seeing a doctor and teacher about his distressing early pubescence. John is teased mercilessly at school, though a new teacher, Mr. Roche, proves to be a godsend. The tensions in the cottage gain a dangerous ascendancy and eventually explode when Granny and John's father argue. The family is ejected to Dublin, where they must move into the depressing, filthy housing project of Ballymun; their disintegration is horribly achieved. As in her first novel, How the Light Gets In (2004), Hyland demonstrates a mature sense of characterization and suspense in a thoroughly engaging narrative. A close, creepy, masterly exploration of ashattered preadolescence.

Product Details

Canongate Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

M.J. Hyland is an ex-lawyer and the author of three multi-award-winning novels: How the Light Gets In, Carry Me Down, and This is How. Carry Me Down was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won both the Hawthornden Prize and The Encore Prize.

Hyland is also a lecturer in Creative Writing in The Centre for New Writing at The University of Manchester where she runs fiction workshops, alongside Martin Amis, Colm Tóibín, and Jeanette Winterson. She also runs regular fiction masterclasses in The Guardian Masterclass Programme, and has twice been shortlisted for the BBC Short Story Prize (2011 and 2012). She also publishes in The Guardian's "How to Write" series, and has written nonfiction for The Financial Times, Granta, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. Hyland is co-founder of The Hyland and Byrne Editing Firm (see - &

Brief Biography

Melbourne, Australia
Date of Birth:
June 6, 1968
Place of Birth:
London, England
Arts/Law Degree, the University of Melbourne, Australia, 1996; M.A in English, The University of Melbourne, 2004

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Carry Me Down 2.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was one of the most tedious books I've read in a long time. With unlikable characters, a plot that was hardly even there, and page after page of basic garbage, I couldn't wait for an ending...and even that was horribly lacking. The writing was just fine, but the book as a whole was a complete waste of time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
True or not, I can't help feeling that ANGELA'S ASHES has destroyed a generation of Irish/American writers (or any writer wanting to write in the field). Not to say that CARRY ME DOWN is ANGELA'S ASHES all over again, but I can feel its ghosts tucked between Hyland's spare, plain, beautiful, yet graphic writing style. Haunting is a word that will pop up time and again as you read the book, and it is a haunted book to be sure. The last time I actually got this involved with a character and their moods and feelings was with Will Perry in Phillip Pullman's A SUBTLE KNIFE, so, why the low score when all it seems I have nothing but praise and teaspoons of surgar for this novel... well, there are some problems. As good as the prose is, it still comes across like a play with all the stage directions wedged into the story trying to pass itself off as legitimate fiction - it's not. Everything is stark, sharp and literal. Cup. Table. Chair. Fireplace - you name it, it all reads flat on the page and never sticks in your mind. Some of the ideas do. The subplot about being a human lie detector, the struggling and desperate end to a marriage and the breaking of the family unit, it's all done very well. But then there are the triggers and emotional landmines that cheapen the deal. The fate of the kittens being the most grevious, and sore thumbed. It's a brutal scene, and pulls at your heart - not because it's so well written, but because it's murder most foul, plain and simple. I could ring tears out of that scene in any novel, no matter the subject, so when I read it here it really felt like a scene Hyland had floating around in a journal that got transplated into this novel. And while the dialogue was well written, and often sharp, it tends to sound flat inside your head. Almost like you've walked into the 1,000 performance of a play, and the actors hearts are tired of the material - it's colorless, humourless and dry... but still compelling in its decay. It's a tough novel, one that I wanted to love every time I turned the page, but by the last page I simply could not love it as a novel, but could find some heart for the process and art of it trying to be a novel. CARRY ME DOWN comes across like a work in progress, much like its lead character, and as he develops we hope the novel will as well, but it never does. It ends without ending, much like life itself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel is long-listed for the 2006 Booker prize and is the best of the bunch that I've read so far. The prose is clean and sharp and the suspense and atmosphere that builds up is awful (meaning great). Comparisons t other child narrators like that in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time or David Mitchell's latest rather miss the point this is a book about the consequences of a kind of extreme puritanism and perfectionism - the desire to make the world in the way you want it and the inabiity to fully realise that other people have lives that are outside your ken. However, like the best child narrators, John Egan (the 12 year old central character) does evoke strong felings of sympathy (despite him being a little creepy)and sees the world with an off-kilter vision that has not yet been dulled by adulthood. A great read. highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'This is an unisual novel that is wrenchng and totally satisfying.'
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down and could not stop thinking about it after I finished. It was brilliant from beginning to end. The writing is sharp and simple, the characters complex and believable, the story slightly surreal but truthful. Read it now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
KDavio More than 1 year ago
do not bother to read this book - it is time you will never get back; there are very few books that I do not forward to friends or family to read - I had no one that I would give this book to - it went right in the trash as soon as I finished the last word
Iamlucyinthesky More than 1 year ago
Love the characters. Love the writing style. Not sure though if I was held to the story because of this, or if I was truly waiting for a plot that just never really came to pass. Loved the scene with the new teacher vs the bully..Hated the Kitten thing. Wanted so badly for Guiness to write back to John.. Wanted so badly for John to have a friend....deeep sigh.. wanted so badly to just overall love this book,but I am afraid that it was a bit too "understated" for me (lots of things unsaid but hinted at..homosexuality,sexuality,molestation,perversions, ect).. The only real "page turner" happened without any type of warning, and I am still trying to make sense of it. SPOILER ALERT!!! Would have made so much more sense if Mammy was the one with the psychological problem which lead to a suicide attempt, not a murder attempt.. I just can't wrap my brain around it-am thinking that this is the feeling that the author was looking for... just a big "oh my, what the heck happened?" but it falls short.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was huge waste of time. There was no plot to the story and I kept reading it for the purpose for maybe it will finally start getting a plot. Read the whole book and nothing! I would not reccomend this book