Archive for April 27th, 2011

Lets have a heated debate….

A gratuitous picture of my cat

First of all, apologies for the late posting of this blog. I wrote this ages ago but forgot to post it. I am officially an idiot. Anyway, on with the book….

For a book about emotional repression, MJ Hyland’s “This is How” certainly provoked some strong reactions at the last meeting.  Cards on the table, I absolutely loved this book- I though it was gripping, beautifully written and almost heartbreaking sad portrait of a character at odds with the world- yet, as the discussion started, I thought I might be on my own.

Because those who didn’t like this book REALLY didn’t like it! It seems that lots of you found Ptrick to be  an extremely unsympathetic and unnerving central character. You wondered about whether his background really was “bad” enough to provoke such extremity and struggled with his inability to accept any responsibility for his actions. The words “boring”, “unconvincing” and “disappointing” reared their ugly heads. It seems a lot of people were left feeling “so what?”.

And then all of  a sudden a couple of late arrivals pitched up and the discussion abruptly changed. Like me they’d had a strong emotional reaction to the book, recognising Patrick as a troubled and perhaps “ill” young man. Interestingly their backgrounds in mental health meant they framed his inability to understand emotion, his problems with relationships and his fastidiousness in the context of a mental health disorder or autism/ Aspergers Syndrome. This lead on to a discussion about authorial intention (were these conditions in the authors mind when she wrote it? and, if so, why were they not mentioned? would it not make Patrick’s motivation easier to understand?),  the “medicalisation” of bad behaviour and the terrible loneliness of suffering from an “invisible” condition which places you outside of the mainstream. The question of whether we needed to put a name to a condition and whether that enables us to better accept peoples actions (even if they re as unpalatable as Patrick’s) plagued us. Should we expect an author to provide us with “answers”?

This brief surmise doesn’t for a moment capture the depth of our discussion and, as you’d expect, we didn’t resolve any of these questions. However, I think we all came away with a sense of knowing the book more deeply, questioning our own reactions to it and maybe understanding our own worlds a little bit more. And what more can you ask from a book?

And as an extra treat MJ Hyland herself will be at the session of the Living Room Book Group in Newcastle on the 3rd May. It begins at 6.30pm and I for one have a lot of questions to put to her. Hope to see some of you there…. x

About the group

Sunderland Book Group meets on the third Wednesday of every month at 6pm at Holmeside Coffee in Sunderland.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit

April 2011
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