A child-man is ripped by forces beyond his control.
Set in the Irish countryside circa 1972, Hyland’s narrative begins as 11-year-old narrator and only child John Egan, home from school for the Christmas holiday, begins to notice a change in his parents’ interactions with him. John has grown alarmingly large for his age, nearly as big as a man, and his beloved mother, a community puppeteer, no longer wants to coddle and kiss him. His father is unemployed and reads philosophy all day, hoping to take exams at Trinity in Dublin. As a result of his lack of income, the family has to move in with Granny, a greedy, disgusting creature who aims to spend her inherited money rather than give it to her kin. John, who devours the Guinness Book of World Records and believes he can set a record himself as a human lie detector, catches his family in a series of falsehoods: Granny gambles and hides the money she wins, all the while plotting to eject the dependent family; his father sleeps on the bedroom floor and harbors secret feelings of shame and anger; his mother tricks John into seeing a doctor and teacher about his distressing early pubescence. John is teased mercilessly at school, though a new teacher, Mr. Roche, proves to be a godsend. The tensions in the cottage gain a dangerous ascendancy and eventually explode when Granny and John’s father argue. The family is ejected to Dublin, where they must move into the depressing, filthy housing project of Ballymun; their disintegration is horribly achieved. As in her first novel, How the Light Gets In (2004), Hyland demonstrates a mature sense of characterization and suspense in a thoroughly engaging narrative.
A close, creepy, masterly exploration of a shattered preadolescence.