This Is How

This Is How

4.0 7
by M. J. Hyland

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M. J. Hyland is the award winning and Man Booker shortlisted author of Carry Me Down. Her third novel, This Is How, is a psychologically probing and deeply moving account of a man at odds with the world. Patrick Oxtoby is a perpetual outsider longing to find his niche. When his fiancé breaks off their engagement, Patrick leaves home and moves to a…  See more details below


M. J. Hyland is the award winning and Man Booker shortlisted author of Carry Me Down. Her third novel, This Is How, is a psychologically probing and deeply moving account of a man at odds with the world. Patrick Oxtoby is a perpetual outsider longing to find his niche. When his fiancé breaks off their engagement, Patrick leaves home and moves to a remote seaside village. In spite of his hopes for a new and better life, Patrick struggles to fit in or make the right impression. He can’t shake the feeling that his new friends are con­spiring against him, further fracturing his already fragile personality and prompting him to take a course of action that permanently alters the course of his life.
This Is How is a mesmerizing and meticulously drawn portrait of a man whose unease in the world as it is leads to his tragic undoing. With breathtaking wisdom and astute insight into the human mind, Hyland’s latest is a masterpiece that arouses horror and sympathy in equal measure.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A moving and compassionate portrait of a human being who is fully himself and yet stands for all of us, for what we fear, or fear to hope.”—New York Times Book Review

“[A] visceral, deeply affecting tale . . . Causality is a question at the heart of the gripping narrative . . . This is a compassionate, disturbing novel, tragically showing a human learning to appreciate life only when his own has been incarcerated.” —The Independent (UK)

“MJ Hyland is an expert anatomist of the bruises left on a fragile mind by a hard world . . . Every word of Hyland’s narrative – observed with the bright, deranged precision of a Richard Dadd painting – resonates.”—The Telegraph (UK)

“This is How, the fearlessly disturbing new novel by M.J. Hyland, takes us inside the mind not of an innocent but of a killer . . . Young Patrick Oxby . . . Hyland’s pared-down descriptions of Patrick’s life—as it once was and as he now endures it—convey excruciating tension and pain. Yet the claustrophobic world that she creates has at its core a disfigured yet recognizable humanity."—Boston Globe

“A tour de force. Hyland illuminates this damaged soul with such a steely, brilliant clarity that your heart breaks for him.”—Helen Garner, author of The Spare Room

“This Is How confirms M.J. Hyland as a true original. She has a ferocious imagination, and an eerie way of squeezing the distance between author, character and reader, so that the atmosphere of the book soaks and penetrates the reader’s mind. When you’ve been reading Hyland, other writers seem to lack integrity; they seem wedded to weak confabulations, whereas she aims straight for the truth and the heart.”—Hilary Mantel, Booker Prize-wining author of Wolf Hall

“Bleak yet moving, mercilessly dispassionate yet shot through with kindness and wit, [This Is How] is a profound achievement . . . it reminds us that there are some truths only fiction can carry.”—The Guardian (UK)

“There is no fanciness to Hyland’s prose. Everything — first person, present tense — is controlled and precise. In the second half of the book, Patrick’s claustrophobic world becomes unutterably grim, but it never feels less than completely real. If you are looking for light entertainment, this is definitely not it. But when it comes to social complexity and nuance, Hyland is compelling.”—The Times (UK)

“Novels are strange beasts, and you can’t always know how one is going to affect you. I finished This is How feeling slightly short-changed, disappointed that I’d somehow been denied a solution to the mystery that its author had set up. Three or four days later, however, Hyland’s white-hot prose was still smouldering in my head and I found myself intensely, almost helplessly, moved by Oxtoby and his tragedy. Some novels play a long game. It’s all credit to Hyland that I’m still thinking about this one, still excited and perturbed by it, still trying to work out what exactly it is that I just read.”—Financial Times (UK)

Erica Wagner
[Hyland] makes it look so simple, with her words of one syllable, with a style almost entirely devoid of affect; but there is nothing simplistic about her achievement. This Is How is an unflinching, absorbing, morally complex portrait of one life gone suddenly and terribly awry…an eerie, commanding book. It is a novel about crime, though not a crime novel; it has an almost stately pace and yet it's thrilling. It is, most important, a moving and compassionate portrait of a human being who is fully himself and yet stands for all of us, for what we fear, or fear to hope. And that is the best that most writers can ever hope to achieve.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Hyland's clever prose is first-rate, but wit makes a weak substitute for insight in this novel about a deeply troubled young Englishman who seeks a fresh start, only to end up facing serious criminal charges. As a child, the unreliable 23-year-old narrator, Patrick Oxtoby, was an excellent student, but after a breakdown at age 14 he became fascinated with mechanics. Now, shortly after his fiancée leaves him, he lands in a small seaside town, takes a job at an auto repair shop and moves into a boarding house he can't afford. It seems as if Hyland misses every opportunity to delve into the roots of Patrick's awkwardness: his landlady and a local waitress provide him fantasy material, and it's clear, even from Patrick's problematic perspective, that he comes across as creepy. Nonetheless, both women inexplicably trust him, just as his parents and older brother appear to love and encourage him-until his arrest, at which point, and without explanation, they abandon him. Hyland (Carry Me Down) sails across Patrick's dark exterior with humor and empathy, but as with everyone Patrick encounters, she hesitates to dive below the surface. (Aug.)

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Kirkus Reviews
Solitary young man descends into a prison of his own making in this bleak tale from Booker-nominated Hyland (Carry Me Down, 2006, etc.). Protagonist and narrator Patrick Oxtoby, 23, is a failed university student who has recently been dumped by his fiancee Sarah and subsequently moved to a lonely seacoast village. Only partially registering the life around him, Patrick finds lodgings at a young widow's boarding house and parlays his almost instinctive mechanical skills into a job at an auto-body shop. But he never frees himself from inchoate memories of a troubled childhood and some unspecified emotional trauma suffered as a teenager. He finds little solace in promised intimacy with an attractive waitress and keeps his distance from the abrasive camaraderie of fellow male boarders. Then, without ever quite knowing why, Patrick commits a brutally violent act; he is immediately apprehended and imprisoned pending trial. The novel's second half details his withdrawal from (predictable) threats lurking in his new environment, as Patrick tries and fails to make his stunned parents, a compassionate doctor and the sexual predators around every corner in jail understand him better than he understands himself. Hyland brilliantly creates and sustains a mood of unrelieved bafflement and tension. But she neglects to make Patrick sympathetic, or even credible. The idea of an unexplained, perhaps inexplicable crime recalls The Stranger, but this redundant and slow-moving tale lacks its predecessor's introspective richness. Two wonderful segments-Patrick's plaintive letter begging his parents to visit, and an unexpected meeting with the elderly couple whose lives he has ruined-amount, alas, to too littletoo late. A disappointment, though by no means an indication of diminished skill, range or seriousness; this gifted Irish writer will find a way to do better next time.

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Product Details

Canongate U.S.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(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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This Is How 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
JarrahZack More than 1 year ago
It only took a few pages for me to grow nervous. It quickly becomes clear that there's something off about Patrick. He tells little lies for unclear reasons. To create a better impression? To conform to expectations? He's a bit paranoid. His silent observations tend to be judgmental, and as they pile up they grow unsettling. I don't understand him. Yet I came to care for him. I still don't know if I actually grew to like him, but I desperately wanted things to turn out well for him. I wanted him to start making better decisions, and when he didn't I grew more and more frustrated, but I refused to give up on him. M.J. Hyland has a minimalist and deliberate style. She packs a lot of meaning and implication into few words. This is her third book. Somehow I missed it when it first came out. I wish I found it sooner. I look forward to her next novel because she keeps getting better and better.
JaneM More than 1 year ago
First you are introduced to this young man as he moves to a boarding house by the sea to start a new job and a new life away from his family and a broken engagement. As you grow to know him through his internal dialogue, you become caught up in his disassociation from normal relationships and inability to connect. As the tension escalates you know something bad will happen, but not sure whether by him or to him. As the story unfolds, the young man's situation becomes worse and worse, until he finally, in desperation, finds solace in the only human contact that he can. An unusual and disturbing book, but one I read quickly as I could not it down.
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BarnesNobleFan More than 1 year ago
This captivating tale encourages one to take heed of life's riches, that there are worse circumstances one could encounter... With snippets of dark humor, we watch as our struggling protagonist, in a moment's indiscretion, becomes mired in a world equivalent to a living hell. This extraordinary story begs to ask, is life really that bad?, and what can we do to enjoy every precious moment? What a stunning read!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After reading The time travelers wife and this book I might give up reading and go to the boob tube. Couldn't be worse.