Canongate U.S.
Canongate U.S.
Canongate U.S.

Carry Me Down

by M.J. Hyland

“John Egan is a brave, resourceful boy, intelligent and self-aware, yet skating on the edge of madness. The story of John’s thirteenth year is both sympathetic and disturbing. It is also rich in understated humor. This is writing of the highest order.” —J. M. Coetzee

  • Imprint Canongate U.S.
  • Page Count 352
  • Publication Date February 28, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-8419-5878-1
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $13.00

About The Book

From the author of the sleeper hit of 2004, How the Light Gets In, comes a formidable follow-up novel about a young boy’s diligent collection of a “log of lies” and the frightening family blowup it causes. Nobel Prize winner J. M. Coetzee called this novel “writing of the highest order.”

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 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 him 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.

Tags Literary


Carry Me Down is so empathetic it’s unsettling . . . It’s easy to write an unpredictable character badly, but to make his actions seem both unpredictable and inevitable requires an emotional mastery of character that cannot be faked . . . sparingly and beautifully written, Carry Me Down doesn’t hide behind unnecessary words, but succeeds in revealing its characters by peeling back the simplest actions to show the small, bright gem of their motivations. Like a diamond brought from the earth, it’s a lot of work to get to that point. But as a skilled and thoughtful author should, Hyland has done all that work herself, leaving us the simple job of admiration.” —Irish Echo

“Expressively communicating the stagnant mood of 1970s Ireland, Hyland’s disquieting novel is also feverishly alert to childhood’s bewilderments and sensitively articulates the strange osmosis between the mundane and the otherworldly that enriches the narrator’s wonky perceptions of humanity.” —The Sunday Times (UK)

“A spare, piercing testimony to the bewilderment and resiliency of youth . . . John’s voice is singular and powerful throughout. . . . By the subtle, satisfying denouement, one is rooting for John’s place in the Guinness book and saving a space for him among the year’s memorable characters.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Surreal, heartbreaking . . . Bizarrely theatrical . . . charming . . . John Egan’s voice . . . is an imaginative act just shy of miraculous in its subtlety and insight. . . . It is John’s believability that powers the novel. He is surreal, and peculiar, but also very alive, enmeshed in a true and fleshy sense in his family and his surroundings. . . . John Egan [is] a character the reader is privileged to meet. Hyland’s skill is commendable. Carry Me Down, in all its grossness and granular beauty, is a remarkable book.” —Anne Julia Wyman, San Francisco Chronicle

“A fast-paced psychological drama . . . Hyland’s novel is a fresh yet troubling reminder of the pain of lost innocence and the price of pursuing the truth.” —People

“In taut, simple prose, Hyland meticulously captures the specific pains of growing up poor and lonely in Ireland and deftly anatomizes her judgmental protagonist’s odd mixture of . . . little boy and grown lad.” —Michelle King, Entertainment Weekly

“Reminiscent of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, this work is a worthy successor to . . . How the Light Gets In. . . . Hyland credibly evokes Egan’s agony.” —John G. Matthews, Library Journal

“The child’s naive first-person, present-tense narrative brings achingly close his helplessness in a poweful adult world. . . . The quiet plain scenes of daily life lead to the surprising and unforgettable climax.” —Booklist

“Hyland has a sharp, observant eye and is particularly good at capturing bright and unusual characters.” —Jamie Spencer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Carry Me Down is uncompromising, unputdownable and done with expert lightness. It’s a work of discreet brilliance. M.J.Hyland is a truly gifted writer.” —Ali Smith, author of Hotel World and The Accidental

“Stunning . . . Carry Me Down is a tour de force character study. . . . It conveys its narrator’s apprehension of the world brilliantly. . . . There is an intense realism about this novel; I believed completely in John Egan and suffered with him. . . . Enthralling and absorbing and capable of arousing sympathy to a degree that is almost painful. At the end, my feelings for John were so strong they were like a physical ache.” —Geraldine Bedell, The Observer (London)

“Hyland has integrated all the elements of her story into a powerful whole that’s much more than the sum of its parts. . . . Vivid, disquieting and extremely hard to put down, MJ Hyland’s second novel shows a great talent in the making, a clever and subtle writer who can tap into the fears and neuroses of childhood, as well as the dynamics of a dysfunctional family, and turn it into gripping fiction.” —Alastair Mabbott, The Herald (Glasgow)

“It is difficult to combine realism and surreal interludes in a single narrative structure, but Hyland manages this effortlessly. . . . A fictional, exaggerated, but ultimately winning version of every adolescent who ever hesitated nervously on the threshold of the adult world.” —Ruth Scurr, Daily Telegraph (London)

“Recognisably true story about the necessity and danger of untruths. . . . Hyland’s big achievement is in the distinctive, engaging voice of her young narrator, which doesn’t have a phoney thing about it.” —Laurence Phelan, Independent on Sunday (London)

“John’s poetic, humorous voice has a ring of authenticity to it, too: this is a humane and compelling novel.” —Daragh Reddin, Metro Midlands (UK)

Praise for M.J. Hyland:

“Moment by moment, Hyland nails the alternating excitement and embarrassment of being a teenager. . . . [She is] a talented writer grappling with serious questions about how we make our way through the world. . . her efforts beat the hell out of tell-alls about manicures and designer jeans.” —The New York Times Book Review on How the Light Gets In

How the Light Gets In introduces us to M. J. Hyland’s clean, sharp, fresh voice. Her narrator Lou Connor is like Holden Caulfield come back as a chick, turned up on the North Shore, and ready to do some damage.” —Rich Cohen, author of Lake Effect

“A story with grit and heart from an intelligent, perspicacious writer to watch . . . [Lou Connor is] our edgy female Holden Caulfield.” —Kirkus Reviews on How the Light Gets In

How the Light Gets In is a cool, accomplished first novel.” —Publishers Weekly


Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize
Long-listed for the Orange Prize 2007


I go to my room and read the book I have borrowed from the library about lie detection. I read that in ancient China, people suspected of lying were asked to spit out a portion of rice, and that dry rice indicated the dry mouth of a liar. I wonder if I might ever have an opportunity to use this trick. I make a note of this in the exercise book I keep hidden under my mattress.

This exercise book is called Koob of Seil (Book of Lies spelled backwards) and in it I have begun to record the lies I detect. I have three headings: Major Lies (Rojam Seil) and Minor Lies (Ronim Seil) and White Lies (Etihw Seil). But white lies backwards isn’t a good word, so I’ve changed white lies to Etuh Seil).

I hide the Koob of Seil under my mattress, and as an extra precaution I also use code names for my family: Mother is Romtha, Father is Hafta, Grandmother is Mogra, Uncle Tony is Tolac, and Uncle Jack is Jatal.

Although there are no entries for her yet, Aunty Evelyn is Lonev, and there’s a page with her name, Lonev, as a heading waiting for the lies she will tell.

I have made entries for the lies people tell on the television (especially on the six o’clock news) and although I have more trouble detecting these lies—because the signs are fainter—I can still tell. I’ve noticed that when people are uncomfortable (as they usually are when they are deceiving somebody) they often reach for something, or touch something nearby: a cup, a book, or the collar of their shirt. I call this reaching for comfort and reaching for distraction. I have also written in the Koob about the way that my physical symptoms are decreasing.