Carry Me Down Hardcover – Feb 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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 dénouement, 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
At 11, John Egan is nearly six feet tall with a deep voice, and he feels like a freak, especially after he wets himself in class. John believes he is a gifted human lie detector, and he himself is a great liar; his obsession is to be famous and have his gift recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records. But why is Dad lying? The child's naive first-person, present-tense narrative brings achingly close his helplessness in a powerful adult world. He may be a giant, but he has no control. Why suddenly is the family moving? Where to? What is wrong? When they land up in the public-housing projects in Dublin, the scary threat seems to be from a brutal street gang, but the real terror turns out to be in the intimacy of his home. Focused on small things, the quiet plain scenes of daily life lead to the surprising and unforgettable climax. Pain is harder than ignorance. Who needs the truth? Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
I found this a difficult story to listen to. To me it felt that the adults were not listening to John. He didn't see anything as changing other than the fact that he was tall. He was still the same child he had been the day before, yet now his mom was pulling away and didn't want to be hugged. His teacher's were treating him differently than his fellow classmates who were smaller. Even his principal centred him out and had private discussions with John. Talk about making a kids feel odd and out of place.
Either I missed the back story of John entirely, or all the adults built a mountain out of a mole hill and they contrived to get John into an un-tenable position. I thought that John was normal and behaving like any boy his age and that it was the parents, and teachers that were behaving badly.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The focus of this book is on the brutality of childhood, as well as the huge impact parents play in forming the psyches of their children. Though not an abused child per se, John Egan is raised by somewhat unstable parents who don't always provide him with the emotional and financial stability he so desperately needs. He becomes a compulsive liar who's convinced he has a preternatural ability to detect lies in others, and as such he's somewhat an unreliable narrator. The reader can read between the lines and get a good general idea of the truth, by knowing the reactions of the other characters, so the occasional delusions of John are easily seen through. He is a liar, but not a sophisticated one. There's a lot of innocence in him, through it all, and this is what gets our sympathy. He's a child who needs a lot of love and who gets precious little, and that's what breaks the reader's heart more than anything.
After finishing this book last evening I cannot get it out of my head. It's dark and sometimes depressing, but in the end redemptive. No wonder the Booker committee chose it. It illustrates a very good instinct for picking out another up-and-comer to watch.
I expect Hyland may not have the visibility to actually win the prize, but this is one of the most heart-rending books I've read in a while, and it definitely deserves making the Longlist. It's so worth making the effort to fit this one into your reading schedule.
A summary of the story might make it appear relentlessly grim, but not so. Despite the rural Irish setting circa 1969, this is no piece of Celtic Gothic, but something that might be written of families anywhere. John is a sympathetic character, often funny, and surprisingly resilient. For most of the book, the story seems like some kind of preadolescent adventure. The climax, when it comes, takes you by surprise, although you can recognize the earlier hints if you think back. Also, Hyland does not leave the reader with an entirely bleak ending; there is hope around the corner. But (partly from personal experience) I do feel that the ending is a little simplistic; the implied upward trajectory is likely to be neither short nor easy. Nor entirely one-sided; the emphasis on the troubled child hides the fact that his father may be an even more deeply disturbed character, and this is something that is neither fully explored nor satisfactorily resolved.
But for all its troubling elements, CARRY ME DOWN also contains great warmth which I think will last long after the book has been returned to its shelf.
Carry Me Down is sad but charming, and because John is so loveable and fascinating, I enjoyed this book tremendously. At times it was funny. Once or twice I cried. Highly recommended.