Carry Me Down by M.J.Hyland and I'm delighted to report another breathtakingly good Booker shortlist read.I hope they have paper bags standing by as the judges deliberate this year, there's going to be a lot of anguished hyper-ventilating in that room.
Set in Ireland,(but fortunately avoids the dovegreyreader "miserable Irish childhood" tag by a mile) the novel revolves around the life of 12 year old John Egan.
John is one of those children I come across quite frequently,so tall for his age it is almost painful to watch as expectations of those around them far exceed emotional maturity.For some reason everyone wants their children to be tall and are delighted when they are but there can be real downsides to looking 18 when you are only 12.
A version of precocious puberty has catapulted poor John, still a child, into a man's body.Head and shoulders above his peers and desperately lonely he seeks solace and companionship in his treasured Guiness Book of Records believing himself worthy of a place as the world's only human lie detector.
In one respect you have to identify John as a wholly unreliable narrator because he is barely halfway near understanding much of what goes on around him but he has a keen eye for atmosphere and an ear for the unspoken which makes him wholly plausible, you willingly share the half understood with him. Like him you are never quite sure exactly what is going on in his parent's lives.
You just ache for John; humiliation and embarrassment are constantly but a moment away and all the agonies and uncertainties of his life filtered through the optimism of a child and the fears of a boy on the brink of adolescence.Much of it, when you step back and analyse,quite disturbing and mental distress is inevitable, it is little wonder that John reacts as he does.
Particularly good is the portrayal of John's close relationship with his mother, it's on the necessary cusp of change but has overtones of something far more disturbing purely because of John's size and maturity, his parents struggle with it all as much as John does.
M.J.Hyland's delineation is impeccable and page-turningly unputdownable.Salutory thinking about just how much damage can be done to a child by circumstances, even one who is loved as much as John and how much worse it must inevitably be for those who are loved so much less.But, and this is important, not a depressing read.
Carry Me Down soars up into my elite little list of possible winners along with The Secret River by Kate Grenville, but it could all change. I have The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai coming up next and Mother's Milk by Edward St Aubyn is to get a second chance.