M.J. Hyland – This is How

Patrick Oxtoby won’t leave my mind. Since reading MJ Hyland’s This is How I can’t stop thinking about him.

Without wanting to ruin the plot the general premise of the novel is this – Patrick Oxtoby moves into a seaside boarding house after his fiancé ends their engagement. With a new job at the local mechanic, and some distance from his mother, he is ready for change. The relationships he forms in the new town will dictate the rest of his life.

 From the first paragraph I knew I was in for a character like no other:

 I put my bags down on the doorstep and knock three times. I don’t bang hard like a copper, but it’s not as though I’m ashamed to be knocking either.

 This is a man who analyses door knocks.The awkward calculation of action and reaction that Patrick makes through the novel creates fantastic tension, which oscillates between embarrassment, frustration and sympathy from the reader. Written in first person present tense he is hard to escape. At times he is stifling. Discussing this novel in a writing class I attend several people admitted that they had found this unbearable. I found it intriguing, unnerving, but most of all page-turning. I genuinely wanted to see what he would do next because I could not predict it.

The novel raises important questions. What makes us do the things we do, react the way we react? What makes us at home, comfortable, at peace? At what point and with who can we really be ourselves? The lack of exact dates reminds us that these concerns are universal and timeless.

The undercurrent of tension is constant. The large actions of the plot are not left to stand on their own. While we are concerned with the main cause of tension; Patrick’s action and his reactions to the consequences, we are spurred on by smaller acts; a lost toolbox induces a panic attack, and the constant visits by unwelcome guests. The threat of violence is never too far. There is a constant underlying threat of attack, sexual or otherwise, which the reader can never ignore.

The characterisation is wonderful. Each character is drawn with humility and hubris. Each causes frustration and a chance to smile in equal parts. Inner dialogue is crafted  beautifully and makes Patrick such an unforgettable character.

Those of you who have read the novel may like to watch MJ Hyland’s interview with Michael Williams on Slow TV. Be aware  – if you haven’t read the novel, you might learn too much by this interview.


  1. And, another I’ve reviewed. I agree with your comment: “I found it intriguing, unnerving, but most of all page-turning. I genuinely wanted to see what he would do next because I could not predict it.” I think Hyland is an astonishing writer. I loved the opening to this book … how could you not! It’s so matter-of-factly bizarre.



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