Adolescent male protagonists have proved popular with Man Booker judges in recent years. Following Life of Pi and Vernon God Little, this year’s longlist brings us David Mitchell’s Jason Taylor (narrator of Black Swan Green) and M J Hyland’s shortlisted Carry Me Down, which is narrated by an eleven-year-old named John Egan. Egan is the latest in a long line of precocious children, having a body too big for his age and a prose style too poetic to truly convince that this is the voice of a boy whose first reaction when confronted by a carpet is to take off his trousers and underwear and rub his bottom against it. This isn’t too serious a weakness, as the writing is so fine that Hyland makes it easy to accept the conceit.
Hyland has such a firm grasp of her material that this Seventies-set story of life in Ireland soon becomes compelling. Her previous novel concerned a sixteen-year-old girl, but she has no problem switching gender. Few female authors manage to get