Black Cat
Black Cat
Black Cat

This is How

by M.J. Hyland

“Expect to be blown away by M. J. Hyland.” —The Guardian

  • Imprint Black Cat
  • Page Count 384
  • Publication Date August 18, 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-7062-0
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $14.00

About The Book

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 fianc” 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.

Tags Literary


“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 smoldering 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)


Longlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize
Longlisted for the 2011 the International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award


Part One — 1

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.

The porch light comes on and the landlady opens the door. She’s younger and prettier than I expected.

“Hello,” I say. “I’m Patrick.”

“I thought you’d be here hours ago.”

It’s after ten and I was due at six. My mouth’s gone dry, but I smile, friendly as I can.

“I missed the connection,” I say.

I’ve not meant the lie, but she’s forced me.

“You’d better come in.”

We face each other in the hallway. I’ve got my back to the door and she’s got her back to the stairs. I should say something, but I can’t think what. I put my bags down again and my hands hang heavy.

“You’ll have to meet the other boarders tomorrow,” she says. “They’ve gone out.”

She takes hold of her long brown hair and pulls it over her left breast like a scarf.

“Let me take your coat,” she says.

“I’m not bothered,” I say. “I’ll keep it on.”

I want the pockets for my hands.

“There’s a rack just beside you.”

“I’ve said I’ll leave it on.”

“I thought you might feel more comfortable with it off. It’s a very warm evening.”

She looks at me and I look at her and she takes a step back as though she blames the place where she’s standing for the silence.

I want her to show me to my room and get it over with. I take my coat off and put it on the rack.

“There,” I say.

She coughs and I get to thinking maybe she’s nervous, same as me. Maybe she thinks I’m all right.

“Is that all the luggage you have?”

I’ve got clothes in one duffel bag, my toolkit in the other.


My coat falls off the hook and, because neither of us picks it up, it’s as though there’s something watching us.

Beside the hallway telephone, a pen hangs from a piece of string. I flick the string and the pen swings.

She laughs, but it’s not a mean laugh.

“What did you do while you waited for your train?” she says.

“I read a book.”

I cover my throat with my hand. I didn’t read. I went to an off-licence and they had a four-for-two deal on bottles of beer. I drank three at the station to get in a better mood and I’ve still got one in my bag.

“Is it a good book?”

“So far.”

There are pictures of boats on the wall.

“I’m building a boat,” she says. “Bridget Bowman’s building a boat.”

I smile and she smiles right back. She’s got a few stains between her teeth, like grout between tiles.

“That’s good,” I say.

She points to the hallway wall, to a picture of a half-built boat in a dark shed. I should ask her what kind of boat it is, but I know nothing about boats and she’ll think I’m an idiot.

I pick up the coat.

“I’ll take you up now,” she says. “You’re on the first floor.”

My room’s small, but it’s at the front of the house and I’ll bet it has a good clear view of the sea.

There’s a single bed, a sink, a draining board, and a rack for cups and plates. Under the window, there’s a table and a wooden chair.

I put my bags down under the sink, go to the bed, and sit. I wouldn’t mind a ham sandwich and a cup of coffee. After that, we could lie down together and I could put my head in her lap, or the other way round. It’d be up to her.

She comes over, stands close to me. “What’ve you got in the big bag?” she says.

“My toolkit.”

She looks at it.

“Do you want me to open it up?”

“Never mind,” she says. “I was just curious.”

I stand.

“Is the room okay?” she says.

“It’s more than okay.”

She smiles. “How long do you plan to stay?”


“You’ve come here for good then?”

“Or bad.”

She laughs, takes a step back. “We’d better go down to the office now.”

I follow her down the stairs and she takes her time, goes too slow, keeps turning back to look at me, tells me the ins and outs of the running of the boarding house.

Three weeks ago my fiancée Sarah was standing at the top of the stairs when she said, “I can’t marry you, it’s over,” and when she was halfway down, I called out her name, but she didn’t stop, didn’t so much as look at me, just said, “Please don’t follow me.”

I wanted to push her down the stairs, make the kind of impression I didn’t know how to make with words. But I didn’t, and when she’d closed the front door I said, “Okay, then,” and, “Goodbye, then.”

Afterwards, I played the scene over and over, imagined how I planted my hands in the middle of her back and pushed hard enough to send her flying.

And I got this sentence in my head, over and over, “You broke my heart and now I’ve broken your spine.” It was something I’d never say, not like anything I’ve ever said. I’ve never done any serious violence to anybody, never even thought about it all that much.

The next day I set about looking in the papers for work and lodgings down south near the sea and three weeks later my bags were packed and I was on the train.

I’m here now, a hundred miles away, and that’s the past. Sarah’s the past. It’s done with. I don’t have to think about it again if I don’t want to.

At the bottom of the stairs, Bridget takes a left turn to her office. The writing in the frosted glass says: Do Not Enter. She unlocks the door, goes in and sits behind her desk. There are more pictures of boats and her black-and-white wedding photographs on the walls and a pile of books about boats on the desk and a vase full of white flowers on top of a filing cabinet. I wonder where her husband is.

“You’ll need to pay for the first two months and a six-week bond in case there’s any breakage or malicious damage.”

I’ve only ever heard my father use the phrase malicious damage and I expect it from him because he’s a miserable factory foreman, always on the lookout for thievery and wrongdoing. She’s too pretty to be saying it.

“Right,” I say.

I open my wallet and take out a wad of notes and without so much as blinking I give her the money. I bet she’ll think there’s a lot more where that came from.

She looks at the notes and frowns.

“Wait,” I say. “Let me count it for you.”

I’ve given her all she’s asked for and I’ve only got a hundred and fifty pounds left.

“Is everything all right?” she says.

I nod.

“You’re just tired.”

“Yeah, it’s been a long day.”

“Of course.”

She wants more.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been more friendly,” I say. “I’ll be a new man in the morning.”

“We’ll do the paperwork and get you a set of keys tomorrow then.”

“That’d be good.”

She moves round to the front of her desk. “Well, goodnight then, Patrick.”

She’s lovely.


I reach the first-floor landing and she calls up.

“Breakfast’s at seven-thirty on weekdays and eight-thirty on weekends.”

I call back, “Okay, thanks. See you tomorrow.”

“Sleep well,” she says.

“You too.”

There’s a good atmosphere made by our voices calling up and down the stairs, something like the mood of being on holiday, just me and Bridget, alone.