Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Carry Me Down

Rate this book
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.

352 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2006

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

M.J. Hyland

18 books99 followers
M.J. Hyland was born in London to Irish parents in 1968 and spent her early childhood in Dublin. She studied English and law at the University of Melbourne, Australia and worked as a lawyer for several years. Her first novel, How the Light Gets In (2003) was short-listed for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Age Book of the Year and also took third place in the Barnes & Noble, Discover Great New Writers Award. How the Light Gets In was also joint winner of the Best Young Australian Novelist Award.

Carry Me Down (2006), her second novel, was winner of both the Encore Prize (2007) and the Hawthornden Prize (2007) and was also short-listed for the Man Booker Prize (2006). Hyland lives in Manchester, England, where she teaches in the Centre for New Writing at Manchester University.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
368 (12%)
4 stars
922 (30%)
3 stars
1,180 (38%)
2 stars
443 (14%)
1 star
152 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 325 reviews
Profile Image for Canadian Reader.
1,064 reviews24 followers
July 21, 2019
Pain is much harder on the mind than ignorance.

My head, as though filled with helium, has nothing in it to carry me down to rest, to dark, down to sleep. It is pitch-black and yet there is no darkness in my mind. There is blinding bright day when it should be night.

M.J. Hyland’s second novel languished on my shelf for years. I honestly don’t know why. Last week, it called to me for some reason, and over the last few days it’s riveted me with its dark, strangely compelling narrative about an odd Irish boy. John Egan is a misfit, for sure. For one thing, he’s a giant—nearly six feet tall—and his voice has broken early. According to his mother, he’s an “eleven-year-old in the body of a grown man who insists on the ridiculous truth and who has got into a bad habit of lying.” At first, there’s regular talk of taking John to the doctor yet again to investigate what is evidently some abnormality of the endocrine system. School personnel are also concerned. There are embarrassing exchanges between John and the headmaster about how the physically and socially awkward boy, who stands out like a sore thumb, is getting along. There’s even talk of moving him up a grade, where he might blend in better with the older kids. Psychiatric problems are suggested, but it’s an ongoing challenge for the reader to understand what is really going on with this boy and his family. It always seems possible that John’s unusual thoughts, preoccupations, and impulses are actually adaptations to a highly dysfunctional family dynamic. Reading this book, one enters R.D. Laing territory for sure. (A brutal scene early on in the book, in which his father challenges John to prove that he’s more than “a poor soft lad” by assisting in the hot-water drowning of a litter of kittens (“grubs with fur”) was as disturbing as anything Laing reports in Sanity, Madness, and the Family—though I admit it’s a long time since I read that book. In any case, it was almost more than I could bear. I very nearly quit right then and there.)

As the narrative opens, it is 1972, and John and his parents are living with his granny in Gorey, County Wexford. His parents, John tells us, are extraordinarily glamorous, and their love story is the stuff of myth. (In order to marry, both Helen and Michael, like movie stars, broke off engagements to others.) Here’s the thing about this detail: it, like so many others John provides, cannot be trusted. As far as narrators go, he could take the cake for unreliability. Still, one can’t shake the sense that everyone else in John’s enmeshed nuclear family is equally unreliable and untrustworthy. There’s a big secret here—possibly many—and the reader is swept along, not by an eventful plot (there isn’t one), but by the desire to get to the bottom of it all, to understand why there’s such a sense of menace.

John, as his father (Michael) observes much later in the book, is “an odd mixture . . . of little boy and . . . grown lad” and it’s sometimes difficult for others to figure out which one they’re interacting with. The boy’s favourite book is The Guinness Book of World Records. The accounts of escape artists particularly captivate him, suggesting that he too wants or needs to break free. John’s goal is to get himself in The Guinness Book “along with all the other people who do not want to be forgotten or ignored.” “I will break an important record,” he vows, “or do a remarkable thing. I don’t see the point of living unless there is something I can do better than anyone else can do or unless I can do something that nobody else can.” Because of the mood that Hyland creates, I almost immediately thought of the teenaged Columbine school shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. But no, that’s not where Hyland is headed.

John decides that he has an extraordinary talent. He’s a human lie detector, which does not mean he himself is a model of truthfulness. In fact, he makes quite a pastime of lying; he also engages in impulsive stealing. To him, there is no cognitive dissonance. He is not a criminal. He sees himself as potentially more sensitive than any polygraph, picking up as he does on subtle changes in the muscles and colouring of a liar’s face, as well as alterations in vocal tone and diction. His own physiological responses alert him. Initially, he vomits (or wants to) when being lied to. Gradually, he gets this reflex under control and attends to other signals that his body provides—an elevation in temperature, for example. So confident is he in his unique gift that he writes repeatedly to The Guinness Book publishers. He is willing to undergo testing, he tells them, to prove he is worthy of inclusion in their book.

Certainly, John’s immediate family provides him with ample opportunity for lie-detection practice. His mother, with whom he shares an abnormal intimacy and whom he tells about his talent, points out that most of what John is detecting are people’s white lies about embarrassing personal matters or socially sensitive topics.

As perceptive as John may be, he can’t seem to pick up on the big things. His father, Michael, once an electrician, has been unemployed for three years. In fact, his job loss is what forced the family of three to move in with John’s granny. The boy blindly accepts the story that his father, who apparently gained easy entry into MENSA (the oldest high IQ society in the world), is preparing for a place at Trinity College Dublin. Michael spends his days reading obscure texts on phrenology, criminology, and abnormal psychology, rather than making an effort to find gainful employment. John is also entirely unaware of the reason why the family hastily leaves Gorey for Dublin, ultimately ending up in the notoriously squalid, crime-ridden Ballymun highrise tower complex.

In Dublin, John is increasingly stressed, prone to episodes of shouting and physical aggression. After he calls out a lie—an act which threatens to destroy the family—his behaviour becomes plainly pathological. His mother calls the Garda and a social worker transports him late at night to a boys’ home. The housefather there is interested in John’s view of himself “as a bit of a lie detector”. “Did you know,” he asks the boy, “that there are other people in the world who can do this?” He continues: “most lie detectors develop their super-sensitivity to emotion early in life. . . [It] is often due to unusual childhood circumstances. . . many have extremely irritable mothers, or alcoholic fathers, or some other force or presence in their early life that is, or was, unhealthy, unnatural, unpleasant, or extremely upsetting in some way.”

That’s one theory; Hyland provides others. However, she doesn’t give the reader an easy time or an easy resolution. Her dark tale has all the complexity and ambiguity of real life. Carry Me Down is not a book for everyone, obviously, but it is a compelling and impressive work—one of those books whose many knots you want to disentangle through discussion with others.

Rating: 4.5
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,194 reviews9,458 followers
March 10, 2019
Novels narrated by an oddball young boy are standard stuff - off the top of my head The Butcher Boy (great), The Curious incident of the Dog in the Drunk Tank (pretty great) and Extremely Loud and Horribly Close (nooooooo!). This particular oddball is an 11 year old who is nearly 5 foot 10 and big with it, and talks in a manly tone of voice. (His parents are tall too. It’s a tall tale.) But the stuff he thinks are just as daft as any other 11 year old, and the family shenanigans he has to put up with are just as predictable as a jillion other kids, alas. Feckless father, harried mother, cramped living conditions, nasty bully at school, working class Irish, blah blah, this kid moans a lot but he should have been grateful he wasn’t in Angela’s Ashes, now that was something to complain about.

The kid is full of obsessions, as young persons are wont to be. His are : his lovely mother’s knockout looks (John is textbook squeamishly oedipal); his unique ability to detect lies in other people; The Guinness Book of Records; and describing meals.

Man alive, you would think this would be a family of porkers, the amount of eating that goes on in these pages. But they aren’t so we must conclude that he just describes every single breakfast, lunch and tea and all extracurricular snacks throughout this year-long tale of woe.

Let us take a core sample :

We sit at the table and eat cream of chicken soup… Granny’s eating habits make me feel sick. My father is nearly as bad. Compared to my mother they are like wild dogs. P25

The eggs are not boiled long enough and are too runny to eat. The white is the worst part, a raw clear liquid. (And so on). P 34

I make myself some toast with blackberry jam p 38

When we get home there’s a chocolate cake that Granny has made, fresh out of the cooker. I take a big slice and go to my room to eat it. P 58

So diligent is young John the giant in recording his calorific intake that even meals that don’t happen also get listed:

I hope she’ll go to the kitchen and make me a toasted ham sandwich or get me some biscuits but she doesn’t. p 78 (Get it yourself, you idle blighter.)

And this goes on throughout the novel.


A year of a family disintegrating. John’s belief that he can detect lies in adults plus his belief that people should tell the truth explodes the situation, when he tells his mother what his dad has been up to. So, I guess, MJ Hyland is showing us how the fifty shades of untruth that we deal with every day of our lives are essential for the maintenance of anyone’s sanity. Don’t ask, don’t tell is the bedrock of a civilized society. What you don’t know doesn’t hurt you.


Here is John the 11 year old narrating his story on p 228 :

My new teacher is a short, fat woman with the cropped brown hair of a man. She wears glasses and whenever she asks a question she takes them off and dangles them in her fat hand.

I don’t think 11 year olds are going to mention the dangling, even if they notice it. On p 232 :

As I kiss her, I notice a hole in the elbow of her nightdress and another larger hole under her armpit. I can see her skin and part of her breast under the hole. I look away.

This is not an eleven year old speaking. This is a literary author pretending to be an 11 year old. You have to suspend a lot of disbelief to go with the flow here, but MJ Hyland makes it easy. John’s strange slightly robotic narration is hypnotic. I read this in 2 days. I was sorry when it ended. So answering my own question : no, not at all believable, but it doesn’t matter. Maybe all fiction is like this – none of it is credible, but it doesn’t matter. That’s not what we read it for.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
December 9, 2021
I first read this book shortly after the paperback came out in 2007, and have been reading it as part of the Mookse group's revisit of the 2006 Booker prize. I had forgotten most of the details, but I can certainly see how it made the shortlist.

The narrator John Egan is quite a convincing creation - a 12 year old with a very believable mixture of naivety and geekiness that eventually spills over into more serious mental problems. He is obsessed by the Guinness Book of Records, and starts to believe that he has a special talent for lie detection.

He and his parents live with his paternal grandmother in her house on the edge of the small Irish town of Gorey. The father has abandoned work, and claims to be studying to earn a university place, and begrudges the grandmother everything she spends from what he sees as his inheritance. John's incessant questioning eventually brings these tensions to a head, and they are forced to move back to Dublin, ending up in a grim new tower block.

The story is rich in comic detail but ultimately rather disturbing, and lost none of its power on a second reading.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,109 reviews1,845 followers
August 13, 2010
I told Karen part way through this book that she would like it. At the time there was something dark and creepy about the book and it felt kind of like Liz Jensen or Ali Smith novels can feel at times. The only thing is that the creepy feeling and foreshadowing never really come to much here. Or they do but not in a way that I found dark enough.

The book works best when it feels like it is building up to something. The story that is told from the perspective from an adult sized twelve year old. The view point of the narrator is stilted in a believable childlike way, and has a whimsy to it, but not a lighthearted whimsy. Dark Whimsy? Kind of the same feeling that Liz Jensen's Louis Drax has going on at times.

I don't really have too much to say about this book. My major problems with the book are spoilers, and questions about why certain things were even included in the book. Like why does the narrator have to be an adult sized twelve year old? There is one scene where it adds to the believability of the story, but an awful lot is made of his abnormal development to make this the only reason.

I can't figure out if I think the book is a tad bit sloppy and doesn't tie up all of its loose ends, or if the book is wonderfully constructed and the loose ends are the gray areas that a child would have surrounding his or her immediate world. In the latter case the foreshadowing that never brings much to fruition isn't a failing, but a misreading of events by a child. And all of the holes are the holes of understanding anyone would have, but especially a child who might look like an adult, but who is still too young to understand a lot of things.

I enjoy the authors writing, and liked the book, but it didn't really do that much for me. Even though I only gave the book three-stars I'd recommend it, especially since it is a fast read.
Profile Image for David.
865 reviews1,301 followers
February 11, 2009
Carry Me Down by M.J. Hyland.

I was referred to M.J. Hyland, an author I hadn't previously heard of, by the algorithm at gnooks.com. I found this book quite disturbing when I read it, so much so that I felt I needed some distance before I could articulate my thoughts about it in a review.

A couple of months later, I think I have a better understanding of why I found the book so disturbing. Some basic information about the book: it's a first-person account, in the voice of 12-year old John Egan, a precocious only child, of a difficult year in the life of his family. Without giving away too much of the plot, his unemployed father alienates John’s (maternal) grandmother, in whose County Wexford house the family is living, they are forced to move to Dublin, where they spend some time staying with John’s aunt and uncle, before being placed in welfare housing in Ballymun, a notorious high-rise slum on the outskirts of Dublin. Building tensions within the family reach a disturbing climax, which causes John’s grandmother to re-evaluate and rescind the family’s initial banishment. The story ends with the family’s return to the Wexford house; whether this represents a lasting resolution of their problems is anything but clear.

All these experiences are filtered through the perspective of John’s 12-year old’s take on events. By choosing to tell the story in the voice of this consummate unreliable narrator, Hyland sets herself a challenge that ultimately becomes a trap from which she doesn’t really manage to escape. Some quirks of John’s character are believable (his conviction that he has ‘superhuman’ lie-detecting abilities, and his obsession with having these documented in the Guinness Book of Records), but his Asperger-like tics and increasingly obvious inability to read the limited information available to him correctly make it increasingly difficult for the reader to figure out exactly what is happening. Hyland’s way of getting around this trap of her own devising is –- it took me a while to realise this, and I suspect she may not have realised it –- to have the various adults in the story interact with John in a way that is actually completely implausible for a child of his age. There are scenes between John and each of his parents which leave you shaking your head in disbelief. This further undermines the credibility of the story. Another major problem is that Hyland’s depiction of attitudes and behavior in Irish society at the time (the 1970s) seems off by at least 20 years; that is, she imputes behavior of her own generation to that of her parents.

All of this makes the climactic events in the book just not credible. The violent eruption in Ballymun is overwrought, and the resolution too pat. So that this ambitious, deeply flawed, novel fails to rise above the level of ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing’.

Reading various newspaper reviews of “Carry Me Down” suggests that mine is a minority view. So, as always, your mileage may vary.
Profile Image for notgettingenough .
1,026 reviews1,182 followers
April 30, 2017
An easy five stars for this one. I innocently picked it up to read over breakfast and my nose didn't leave it until about nine in the evening. I couldn't put it down, despite having too much to do. My perfect novel. It has a story line, and for bonus points starts at the beginning and ends at the end; economic of language, stylistically simple, characters that you can see in your mind’s eye and so, SO real, you’d swear it was autobiographical.

Which, it transpires is somewhat the case. The author comes from the world she describes. She lived in the social housing slum of Ballymun housing estate in which a substantial part of this book is set.

Rather than inadequately waxing lyrical about this book, I am going to reproduce an interview she did for Tin House, in which she reveals much about the writing process and her position in it. I do hope that you click here to see the original: Trojan Mules of Meaning: An Interview with M.J. Hyland. I’m only copying it here, because once burned and all that, I have so many links to wonderful things that become inaccessible.

She’s a profound thinker about the writing process and its practitioners.

Profile Image for jo.
613 reviews488 followers
March 8, 2011
this book is a masterpiece, but i found it so disturbing that i can't possibly give it more than three [changed to four] subjective stars. it is the only book i know that puts the reader so deeply and exclusively in the mind of a child, you literally don't know what is going on except what the child apprehends through his limited abilities and his compensating fantasies. for instance: is john an emotionally disturbed kid from the start, or does it progress into profound emotional disturbance as the story goes on? we don't know, because he doesn't, and can't, know.

the novel starts on any old day in john egan's life (i cannot help thinking that m.j. hyland chose john's name as a tribute to jennifer egan, which of course is ridiculous). the family of three, mom, dad, son, is contentedly reading at the dinner table. the narrative proceeds in a rather flat tone, more as an accumulation of details than as an engaging, proper story (this is not to say that there is no story; there is plenty of story in this book). john and family have tea (dinner); john goes to bed; mom tells him a bedtime story; john reads his book; john and his dad watch the telly.

at the same time, though, there is something different that presents itself right at the beginning. john has had a dramatic growth spurt and, in spite of his 11 years of age, he is 6 feet tall and has a deep voice. there is no mention of sexual development. the difference in body shape is not something that worries john. what worries him is that mom and dad seem to behave differently. mom is less spontaneous with her cuddling and playing. so is dad.

since john is not a meticulous narrator we don't know whether mom and dad have started treating john less as the child he is just as the novel starts, or whether this shift happened earlier. john is not interested in giving us back stories and establishing shots. he is an 11 year old and he only knows that mom is more wary than she has ever been of snuggling up with him and playing puppet theatre for him.

the events, as they tick along in john's simple narrative voice, accumulate to describe a rather miserable life. john has only one friend, whom he soon loses thanks to a couple of intensely embarrassing incidents. his classmates don't like him. he's a solitary boy with fantasies of being a prodigious lie detector. his grandmother, in whose house they live, repels him somehow. his father hasn't worked in three years. his mom is a very frayed emotional center for the whole family.

you analyze john the way you'd analyze a real child, which means that you need to get a whole lot of story before you can form any idea at all of what is the matter with him. you can decide what moments are key in john's mental deterioration only after the novel ends. in other words, there aren't any textual clues to indicate to the reader that this or that are Important Moments.

later, when john loses it, you look back and think, oh, maybe it was when his father killed the kittens! but who knows? maybe john was heading for heavy dissociation, paranoia, and possibly schizophrenia from the start. we don't know, because the story ends just as it started, somewhere in the middle.

all the same, hyland represents brilliantly the decline in mental health of the whole family, and john's increasing, and eventually frantic, confusion. when john starts going ballistic, you are as confused as he is, as powerless against his rage as he is, as desperate for love, safety, consistency, comfort, and security as he is. which is not a particularly pleasant feeling.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
July 8, 2012
A somewhat different reading experience. The prose is simple and it slowly builds up into something dark and scary, then it just fritters away. However, when you finally close the book, you are left satisfied although you know you did not reach the climax because there is none.

John Egan is an 11-y/o Irish boy who is an only child. His father has not worked for 3 years so he and his parents live with his grandmother, his father's mother. Her grandmother lives with his husband's money and she spends it the way she wants to. John is too tall of his age and his parents are consulting doctors to see what's wrong with him. However, John does not fret about it. What he is busy about is how to make his "gift" (so he believes) of being a human lie detector be registered at The Guinness Book of World Records aside from fulfilling his dream of going to Niagara Falls. Thinking that he could tell if a person is lying, he sees so many lies around him that he becomes disillusioned. Not that he does not lie himself, he does and he records what he feels as part of his experiment.

Whether he succeeded or not, whether his family stayed together or not, whether there was death or not, I am not telling you so as not to spoil your fun. However, as I said, there seems, for me, no climax, and yet you feel satisfied when you close the book.

I've read so many of these coming-of-age, first-person narratives of boyhood tales like Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, Kieron Smith, Boy by James Kelman and Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman. These are all written by English or Irish authors and I liked them all. So, I did not know that Hyland would still be able to trick me into reading and actually liking another work in this genre.

I think the Myland's trick is in her writing. When you read her prose, it seems simple so you just read and read. Her prose can be read by anybody and at times it felt like I was reading Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower because of the semi-autistic (my opinion) boy as the narrator. Then somewhere along the way, you will feel that this is different: Hyland is bringing you somewhere and she makes you feel her vulnerability as a writer as if she does not know where to lead you. In the end, your don't know if she succeeded or not but you form your own analysis and chances are, you will feel slightly superior than her because you either felt that you could have told the story better or where you went was of your choice and not hers. So, even if there are loose ends left untied, you are glad you read her book as you are bringing with you a somewhat different reading experience.

This book was shortlisted in Booker 2006 so don't take this book lightly. Believe me, this is a good book.
Profile Image for Allie Riley.
403 reviews135 followers
February 21, 2016
The Egan family are dysfunctional to say the least of it. And it is John, the precocious eleven-year-old boy who narrates who appears to have the most problems. It seems highly likely from what transpires, in fact, that he is mentally ill in some way.

His parents, Helen and Michael, and he live with his grandmother, in Gorey (in County Wexford, Ireland). John is obsessed with the Guinness Book of Records and believes himself to be adept at detecting lies. He spends his spare time reading up on this and sends many letters to the Guinness Book of Records HQ in hopes of gaining an entry in their book for this ability. His father had lost his job some three years previously, hence this rather awkward domestic arrangement. Ostensibly, he (Michael) is working to get a place at Trinity College, Dublin, in order to better himself, but it appears mostly to consist of reading and boasting about his membership of Mensa (gained with an IQ score of 145). There is considerable resentment between he and his mother, to whose money he feels entitled. She, for her part, clearly believes him to be a lazy sponger and is not comfortable with their living arrangement.

This smouldering resentment between them eventually comes to a head with a violent disagreement which results in their eviction from her house. They briefly stay with Helen's sister, Evelyn and family, before acquiring a flat in Ballymun, a less than salubrious area in Dublin, enabled by Michael's new job in the metalwork factory.

John, ever keen to test his lie detection ability, tells his mother that his father has been committing adultery with the women upstairs and after her confrontation of Michael with this information, he is thrown out. Thus leaving the increasingly depressed Helen to manage with John on her own. This culminates in the shocking event which forms the climax of the novel and which eventually brings them back to Gorey to live with his grandmother once more. As the novel closes, this reconciliation is new and fragile.

Few of the adult characters in "Carry Me Down" behave as we would expect. John's relationships with his parents and other grown-ups do not seem normal. There were moments when, frankly, I wondered if he was being abused. Given his mental instability, he is an unreliable narrator, however, so it is not clear that these events occurred precisely as presented. Consequently this is quite an unsettling and thought-provoking book. I haven't read "We Need to Talk About Kevin", but it did strike me that it might make an interesting comparison.

Well written and recommended.
Profile Image for Andy.
888 reviews8 followers
September 2, 2010
I am not going to be an a$$hole about this book. I am not going to say it was written poorly (because it wasn't). I'm not going to say that the story wasn't interesting (because it kind of was). I'm not going to say that Hyland does not have the chops to be a great writer (not that she isn't already). What I will say is that the book is one of the most inane, preposterous, and lame stories I have ever read. This is seriously weird because Hyland first novel, How the Light Gets In was really good and interesting and fun. I really loved her first novel. Her sophomore novel just wasn't up to snuff. The story was not a story that anyone wants to really know about. John, the narrator and main character, is not a character that a reader wants to know on any level. His parents are not people that I would like to know. In fact, I could care less about them or anything that they do or believe in.

This novel was like a train wreck. You hate to know it happened. You are afraid for the people that it happened to. You are scared about the consequences and death, and mangled bodies, and so on and so forth, but when you drive past it, you just can't help but look at it. You stare, you try and gain the best visual advantage, and you do everything in your power to see the decapitated heads, or the maimed limbs, or the bleeding orifices. Every moment that I spent with this book I felt that I was watching this train wreck. Unfortunately, when I finally saw the wreckage, there was nothing there but a lost shoe. Like I said... Lame.
Profile Image for Betty  Cooper.
1 review1 follower
March 28, 2008
I found this book to be quite vulgar and generally unattractive. A few times I did actually find myself physically sick at the imagery, particularly when John's father killed the kittens. But while the text evoked this response in me, I don't think my sickening would be fairly attributed to the writing but more to the fact that things like picking a scab and saving it to eat later is just gross, plain and simple!
I did not like John's character at all. I thought he was quite selfish and seriously pathetic at times and not at all likeable. I could have found his grandmother endearing but it was a bit hard to with all that slurping of tea! I think I cared most about Crito!
The blurb on the back of the book said it was a psychological thriller but I was not thrilled. John's act of smothering his mother was I think meant to be climactic, but for me it was as awkward as John's character.
I'd hoped very much that this book might offer more than another sad story about a pathetic little poor Irish boy but I'm afraid for me it really didn't. But all that said I think the book did capture the awkward limbo of adolecence quite well. That slippery transition with all its painful fumbles and confusion and longing for the safe familiarity of childhood days. I thought this was done well, however, I'm afraid that this was still far from a redeeming feature.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sandy.
2,526 reviews58 followers
June 6, 2013
I really wondered what I had read when I finished reading this book. Yes, this is a book about John and he really believes he has the talent to detect when other people are lying. He is dead-set on getting into the Guinness Book of World Records because he wants to be famous and this theme runs throughout the whole book. He lives with his da, his mother and other relatives as he tries to live his normal 12- year old life but as I am reading this book, I am wondering, what is normal? Does John fit the bill? What about his parents and his relatives? The relationship that John has with his parents does not seem normal to me nor do the other relationships I encounter in this book. Upon further reflection, I wonder what exactly I had read when I finally closed the last page of this book.
I don’t want to give this story away since obviously, I walked away confused by all the words I had read and I was no more enlighten then when I had started just really baffled. Being a Prize Finalist book, I am deeply confused at just what others saw that I missed. I really enjoyed the cover and the writing style was blunt and straight to the point but that was just about it. Sorry, but that is how I feel.
Profile Image for Lynn.
44 reviews13 followers
March 9, 2008
I really only perservered with this book because we're discussing it at my book club. Despite all the reviews full of praise for this one, I found it dreary, stark and uninspiring. Hyland's definitely a talented writer, but I couldn't empathise with any of the main characters and found myself 'dragged down' by the unremitting bleakness of this book.
It might be a 'worthy' read, but it certainly wasn't for me.
Profile Image for Girish.
848 reviews209 followers
June 15, 2020
Ok, I conclude that it is indeed an Irish book template (as against a story line) - to make sense of the adult (dysfunctional) world through a kid's eye. The only variant is the kid's condition and the dysfunctionality.

This after reading atleast 5 similar books including Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke, Seamus Deane's Reading in the dark, Mark Haddon's Curious incident of the dog in the night time among others.

John is a man-child who is 11 years old, abnormally tall, adores Guinness Book of Records and believes he is a human lie detector. The story starts of in Gorey where his family is living with his grandmother. It is through his eyes we makes sense of the relationship between the adults. And he is at the receiving end of ridicule in his school, especially after a particular embarrassing incident.

When they have to move to Dublin mid year after a fallout in the family, he does not like the change since it makes his mum morose and dull. The book deals with one year of his life

M.J Hyland does not hold back blows even if it is through the eyes of a 11 year old. And so, the first chapter we have John and his dad kill kittens to set the tone. The writing was incisive but I felt the chapters don't add up to the book. We see the change in the boy within the year, but the parents do not notice.

The child's sense-making washes over the tough themes portrayed. I was a tad disappointed that it stuck to the template.

A decent read.
Profile Image for Jayne Charles.
1,045 reviews17 followers
May 15, 2012
The best thing about this book was its narrator John, an overly tall 11-year-old who eats sandwiches pretty much constantly, and who believes himself to be an infallible lie-detector. The author cleverly retreats into the background and allows the voice of her protagonist, with his many eccentricities and insecurities, take centre stage. It's a great piece of writing. One minute I was admiring the measured way John handles bullying, and the next I was thinking: crikey, this is one disturbed kid.

Impressive too was John's mother: despite this being a first-person narrative what comes across is someone on the edge, struggling against circumstances and the fact she has a child who doesn't fit within the normal distribution.

A somewhat robust and unconventional anti-bullying policy is depicted at John's school - depending on one's sensibilities it provokes cringing or cheering. I'm afraid I was cheering.

There is work for the reader to do: how much is John's behaviour caused by the upheavals in his family, the tendency for people to think he is older than he is; how much is down to his own personality? Is he weird or are all kids like that? How reliable a narrator is he? In the end it is an opportunity for the reader to test their own lie detection skills.
Profile Image for Yami.
706 reviews51 followers
June 12, 2014
what the hell did I just read what was the point of all of it....!!!!!
I kept reading about this kid john and that weird family of his, and I was waiting for something to happen some twist, something to make it for me reading all of this narrating, some point to reach into, but instead it was a story about a weird kid, who thinks he is a living lie detector,who has a crazy matching parents , who lived with content under the roof of his grandma, then moved for some reason in the story, have their life turned upside down , cos apparently the whole family have some mental bug or something, to be back again from page one......

I REALLY DON'T GET IT. it is just a monotone narrating with no point of characters or dialogue, I dont think there is even a story...I read other books that are narrated from a kid's point of view regarding family issues and struggle, but never was disappointed with an ending like that, my head was running with thoughts of twists till the last page, but there weren't any..though it is sad to say, cos it had a feeling that it is building up for something important.

POINTLESS, it wont have an impact on you, but an irritated memory of wasted time
Profile Image for ΠανωςΚ.
369 reviews42 followers
July 22, 2017
Αυτό δεν είναι απ' τα βιβλία που συνήθως διαβάζω, δεν είναι του στιλ μου. Ομως: με ξύπνησε προτού χαράξει ο γάτος (και μετά αυτός κοιμήθηκε) οπότε ήθελα κάτι να διαβάσω. Διάλεξα απ' την στοίβα με τα αδιάβαστα κάτι στην τύχη - σχεδόν στην τύχη. Μοναδικό κριτήριο να μην ξέρω τίποτε για το βιβλίο και τον/την συγγραφέα. Να διαβάσω κάτι χωρίς καμία προσδοκία. Δύο σκέτους καφέδες και περίπου έξι ώρες μετά, έχοντας στο repeat ένα παλιό σιντί των Τράβις, το τέλειωσα. Διαβάζεται γρήγορα και γενικώς δεν θέλεις να τ' αφήσεις απ' τα χέρια σου. Όχι γιατί έχει κάνα τρελό σασπένς. Κάθε άλλο. Απλώς μου άρεσε πολύ η γραφή της Χάιλαντ. Παρότι, ξαναλέω, δεν είναι από τα βιβλία που αν είχα διαβάσει το blurb τους, θα το είχα επιλέξει.
Τρία αστεράκια και μισό, εντέλει τέσσερα, γιατί πέρασα ένα πολύ όμορφο πρωινό με δαύτο.
Profile Image for Ella.
736 reviews128 followers
April 4, 2019
I loved this book much more than some others, I think. Here's why: I found the use of young, awkward, tall, concrete John Egan's eleventh year to interrogate the emotion behind lies we tell and lies we decide to believe pretty ingenious. Then there's the child himself: his voice is strong, he believes in his own righteousness and his own deceit never seems to occur to him as more than a research method. John's youthful absolutes don't allow him much room for letting anyone, no matter the reason, room to scrape by - even when it will have huge consequences (and he often misses the fact that his interrogations will cause others pain until he sees that this is exactly what's happened.)

John winds himself so tightly in his quest to uncover the lies of those close to him that it overtakes the love more than once, confusing the poor kid intensely and tossing grenades into all of the relationships around him. It's an area many adults have difficulty navigating, so the black and white world of childhood allows readers to decide how we might weight the prevarications from loving omissions to treachery. It's a pretty nifty trick using a child to somewhat sternly probe the space where love, truth and deception all meet.
Profile Image for Lostinanovel.
144 reviews18 followers
April 30, 2008
I think MJ attempted to pull one of those "gotcha" stories but didn't pull it off. Its like one of those movies where you have a sudden realization with a few minutes left that the main character-hero is the killer (i.e. The Number 23 or The Usual Suspects) Once we realize that the boy is a psychopath, we look back on the clues (high tolerance for pain, peeing his pants, the odd sexualty etc) and we are suppossed to knock our heads and say "of course!". But I don't buy it. The clues to subtle, some scenes too unclear.

How messed up are his parents? Was there something sexual going on with the mother? What happened that night in the shed with his friend and was something going on with the gardener? And wtf was going on with that crazy teacher he loved who forced that little girl to pee in her pants? Was that a fantasy or reality?

I think this book suggested a lot but didnt do enough to make it clear what MJ wanted to say. No shock, just disappointment.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Emily.
649 reviews36 followers
October 27, 2016
This book was beautifully written, and Gerard Doyle's narration made it even eerier. I knew from the very beginning that something was wrong. The mood writing was perfect. Some of the things that happen in the last half of the book make sense, but the aftermath of those incidents doesn't. Which probably makes it more realistic and thus more and less satisfying.

If you want a quaint, cheery novel, DON'T READ THIS! If you enjoy decidedly Irish fiction or theater that will slowly and quietly break your heart and leave you confused and aching, this is the novel for you. This probably deserves four stars, but it's getting three right now because I'm upset by the (appropriately ambiguous) ending.
Profile Image for Alessandra Jarreta.
206 reviews36 followers
December 9, 2015
Peguei esse livro no sebo sem nunca ter ouvido falar dele e sem ter ideia do que se tratava. Cara, que surpresa! Adoro histórias adultas que tenham crianças como protagonistas, e essa despedaçou meu coração. Escrita deliciosa e enredo envolvente e tenso. Fiquei muito apaixonada por todos os personagens e me preocupei muito com eles. Recomendo :)
Profile Image for Kim.
2,073 reviews
July 20, 2021
Setting: Ireland; 1971. 12 year old John Egan narrates this tale of one year of his family's life as he struggles to find himself in a confusing world where he is the size of a man but with the mind of a child. John is obsessed with the Guinness Book of Records and also views himself as a human lie detector - his conviction that he can detect when people are lying causes serious repercussions in his family and for himself during this year....
I was not totally enamoured with this story, possibly because of the narrator being a child, and it never really gripped me to be honest. However, it wouldn't put me off trying other books by this author - 6.5/10.
Profile Image for Marija Milošević.
251 reviews69 followers
December 14, 2018
Da li je sve objašnjeno? Nije.
Da li me zanima dovoljno da razmišljam o tome i dalje? Not really.
Profile Image for christa.
745 reviews277 followers
December 30, 2012
John Egan is a man-sized, child-aged lie detector and has been sending letters to the folks at Guinness Books to share his special skill. He most often gets to test his ability on his moody, big talk-little action father, whose lies end with John Egan getting physically ill. This self-ascribed specialness is John’s single safety pocket in a world where he struggles to find common ground with his father, has a borderline creepy relationship with his mother and his classmates know him as the freak who unleashed his bladder all over his shoes.

MJ Hyland’s novel “Carry Me Down” is this awesomely uncomfortable and bleak story of John’s life as his brand of peculiarities are about to shift from slightly-strange child to full fledged whack adolescent. And, if the book were about 120 pages longer, I think we’d see even deeper shades of grey that roll over Hyland’s super fascinating imagination.

When the story starts, the family -- John’s puppeteer and pun-fun mom, his unemployed father who is always on the cusp of something, and John -- are living with his grandmother in Gorey. John has one friend, a fickle kid he has some sexual tingles toward, and his Guinness Books. He studies the art of lie detection, for which he believes he has a knack, and keeps a secret notebook filled with what he has learned and lies he has spotted. He calls this the “Gol of Seil” and he keeps it under his mattress next to some cash he stole from his grandmother after she won at the track.

After the public urination incident happens at school, a faux pax he explains away as an attempt to set a urine-holding record, he becomes a target for taunts among his classmates. No matter. Things are about to shift at home and his mom and dad quickly pack up and make for a different city and a different life. They end up in a low-income high rise where the elevator smells like piss and teen-aged thugs make John’s life miserable. Meanwhile, he’s not crazy about the way his mother’s once dynamic personality is shifting into something dull or the way his father seems to be spending time with the suspect ladies in the apartment upstairs.

And then, very suddenly, something not unexpected but still super strange happens that changes everything.

Gah. MJ Hyland is so good at what she does. She takes the simple language of a pre-teen and creates a subtle something that makes things really, really uncomfortable -- one of my favorite traits in a writer. I’m totally digging this writer.
Profile Image for D..
41 reviews5 followers
October 10, 2007
"Carry Me Down" begins so strongly, with such a profoundly fascinating protagonist, the letdown at the conclusion was probably inevitable. Young John Egan is one of the creepiest child characters I've read, and he made reading seemingly innocuous scenes very uncomfortable for me. It's clear from the start that things are going to go very, very wrong for the Egan family, and that John will probably have a lot to do with that.

But when the "very wrong" does happen, it happens quickly, and is over before the reader or characters realize what is happening. From this point on, the book tidies itself up neatly, but not so neatly that I feel the narrator is unreliable (which would have been more interesting). Ultimately, I was hoping for more, and expected to get it. But fortunately, the "journey" of this book mostly makes up for any deficiencies in the "destination". There are plenty of moments to give you the heebie-jeebies and ask, "What is wrong with this kid?"
Profile Image for Eileen Horgan.
92 reviews32 followers
July 16, 2015
This book was short listed for the Man Booker prize... so I read it. Hugely disappointing as it just didn't go anywhere - meandering around from Wexford to to Ballymun flats just like the thoughts of young John rambled around. No conclusion to the non existent plot line, just a tremendously boring, depressing story. I was so sickened to repeatedly read accounts of him picking an open wound on his head and other dreary stories regarding his obvious mental illness, the completely irrelevant references to his unusually early growth spurt-there wasn't one uplifting , happy or humorous passage in the entire book. Why did I finish it? Because I believed there would be a dramatic conclusion and no there wasn't. I'm so so annoyed.
Profile Image for Emma Monfries .
156 reviews5 followers
March 6, 2018
This book just took forever to get through. I always read Man Booker nominees because I usually love them. Not this one. The narrator, who really can’t be trusted, is a boy who grows too fast whose parents treat him as though they don’t like him. His father is a bastard, his only friend dumps him, and things just continue to get worse. It’s bleak and ends up exactly where it started. Didn’t enjoy any of this novel. Not recommended.
Profile Image for Alfonso D'agostino.
698 reviews50 followers
January 12, 2019
Arrivo a Il bambino che non sapeva mentire, romanzo del 2006 di M.J. Hyland celebrato in diversi premi letterari, attraverso la lista dei 1001 libri da leggere a tutti i costi.

La prima domanda che sono costretto a farmi è sul perché del titolo: in lingua originale risulta essere Carry me down, il che mi ricorda sinistramente pessimi esempi di traduzioni italiche di testi e film anche famosi). Ed in effetti – salvo che io sia crollato miseramente nella attenzione durante la lettura – il punto è che il protagonista dodicenne sembra essere in grado di rilevare le bugie dei suoi interlocutori, che finiscono per scatenargli vero malessere fisico. Oddio, è vero che non riesce a mentire alla madre quando scopre che SPOILER CHE VI EVITO e che questo causerà ALTRO SPOILER CHE VI RISPARMIO, ma la caratteristica è quella di accorgersi delle menzogne, non di non saperle trattenere. Al punto che John (così diamo un nome al ragazzo) scrive più volte al Guinness dei Primati, sua lettura prediletta, per proporsi come unico esemplare di macchina della verità umana.

E’ su John, e sulla sua vista del mondo quale io narrante, che si concentra una trama fatta di una situazione familiare che ondeggia fra idilliaca e molto complicata, sullo sfondo di una Irlanda povera, nelle campagne così come dopo un trasferimento in città, fra amicizie che adolescenzialmente nascono e muoiono, una sessualità in corso di definizione e un corpo che sta crescendo in modo imprevisto ed eccessivo, a totale contrasto con un carattere ancora fanciullesco persino nella ricerca di coccole dalla mamma.

E se la prima parte del romanzo è resa gradevole dalla presentazione del protagonista e dei suoi rapporti con il mondo che lo circonda, persino affascinante nel ricreare un mondo parallelo e fantastico, è nella sua seconda parte che Il bambino che non sapeva mentire prende una piega assolutamente cupa, quasi disperata. Una disperazione avvolgente, un insieme di pensieri ed azioni che certamente trascina ma che non riesce mai suscitare una piena empatia, direi neppure la volontà di comprendere. Intendiamoci, non è caratteristica negativa in assoluto. Ma qui è un peccato, perché in alcune della pagine iniziali John sembra potersi avvicinare (sottolineo: avvicinare) alla grandezza di un Garp irving-iano, romanzo che ho invece amato moltissimo ma da cui – completata l’ultima pagina – siamo lontani anni luce.

Profile Image for LindaJ^.
2,134 reviews6 followers
December 11, 2021
3.5 stars rounded down to 3

Creepy. Eleven-year old John is one of those kids who gets bullied in school. He's too tall, almost 6 foot. His voice has broken. He has one friend, who is many really not a friend. He's fascinated with the Guiness Book of records. He's been working on breaking the record for longest time without peeing, but that backfires badly. His family is, well, having troubles. John is way too clinging to his mother for his age. He even makes her nervous because of his size. His father's a bit of a bum. His granny, according to John, is a bit of a slob. A new teacher arrives at this school and John thinks he will help him. Then the family abruptly leaves for Dublin and ends up in public housing. John's school situation deteriorates. John's mental health deteriorates. John's mother's mental health deteriorates. John almost smothers his mother. After having him arrested, she changes her mind. John is sure he is a human lie detector and writes letters to the Guiness Book of Records telling him about his special gift.

This was on the 2006 Booker short list.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 325 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.