Bleak Much?

Friday, April 02, 2010

I determined a few weeks ago to try and read as many of the books on the long list for the Orange Prize for Fiction as I could before the prize is announced in June.  This is a British prize for the best fiction by women.  I tracked down as many of the titles as I could-not all of them have been released in the US yet.  I've got about six on my shelf, eagerly awaiting my perusal.

I decided to start with This Is How, by MJ Hyland.  It is one of the shorter ones on the list, and since I was not yet on this glorious ride called spring break I figured it would be a quicker read.  It was at that, but I am still not sure how I feel about it.  The story revolves around Patrick, a 23 year-old ex-university student.  He was living at home with his family, engaged to the girl of his dreams-until he came home one day to find a note saying she was leaving him.  Feeling depressed, his prospects for future happiness in doubt, he decides to pick up and move to a small seaside town.  He found a room at a boarding house run by a young widow, and a job as a mechanic at a small garage n town.  Once there, he finds that his mood does not improve, despite the presence of two attractive women-his landlady and the waitress at the cafe in town.  His fellow borders are young men of privilege, and he quickly feels out of his depth despite their shows of friendship.  He spirals deeper into depression, finally falling into an act that changes everything.

This novel is bleak.  The language is spare to the point of feeling almost emotionless at times.  The setting, which should be lovely, only adds to the mood of despair.  Patrick is clearly a man with very few social skills, and a real trouble controlling his thoughts and actions.  He has a strained relationship with his family, and seems inclined to believe that everyone is out to get him.  There are very few truly sympathetic characters, except maybe the two women that Patrick finds himself attracted to in his new hometown.  The second half of the book takes place in a prison, so you can imagine how uplifting that is.  When Patrick finally finds some genuine human connection, it happens in such a bizarre way that even that doesn't seem to lighten the mood.  In the end, I'm left wondering what on earth could have caused Patrick to act the way he did-there is just not enough in the book to give me a clear sense of how he got to be the way that he is.  Despite that I did end up pulling for something to go his way.  I was destined to be disappointed.


  1. I am so glad to see a person read this. I saw it reviewed on a book club and it seemed really interesting. What was especially interesting was that someone said they thought it was a rip off of The Outsider by ALbert Camus. Have you read that? If you have I would be interested to see what you think.

    I am going to add this to my wishlist with a link to your review.

  2. I did read it, in French, in high school. I can see why the reviewer felt that way, though it's been so long since I read Camus it didn't occur to me. It definitely has the same writing sensibility about it as Camus' work does. I'm still chewing on it, which I suppose makes it a good read even if it wasn't exactly a comfortable read.


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