Hyland, M.J. 1968-

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Hyland, M.J. 1968-

(Maria Joan Hyland)


Born 1968, in London, England; brought to Australia, c. 1970; brought to Ireland, c. 1972; returned to Australia, c. 1979. Education: Melbourne University, degrees in law and English.


Home—United Kingdom. E-mail— [email protected]


Practiced law in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1997-2003; Melbourne University, Melbourne, writing instructor and lecturer in criminal law; Monash University, Melbourne, former tutor in criminal law. Cofounder and editor of Nocturnal Submissions (literary magazine), 1989-97.


How the Light Gets In (novel), Penguin Books (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2003.

Carry Me Down (novel), Text Publishing (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 2006.

Author of short stories and essays published in Australian, Irish, and American periodicals, including the Guardian, London Review of Books, Irish Independent on Sunday, British Vogue, New York Stories, All Story (Zoetrope), and BlackBook magazine. Hyland's fiction has been translated into several languages, including German, French, Itialian, Hebrew, and Dutch.


M.J. Hyland wrote her first novel, How the Light Gets In, in the first person, but notes on the book's Web site that it is only five percent autobiographical. Hyland was born in London, and her Irish parents immigrated to Australia when she was two. The very poor family was essentially nomadic and moved to Dublin, Ireland, when Hyland was four. There they lived in various housing projects until she was eleven, at which time her father, an alcoholic and gambler, made the decision to return to Australia to try again. They settled briefly in Fremantle, where Hyland met other immigrant children and received an interrupted education. They eventually moved to Melbourne, where Hyland lived for twenty-six years before returning, in 2005, to the United Kingdom. Hyland told Sinead Gleeson in a BiblioFemme interview: "I had a ruthless determination and an obscene amount of luck. I was rescued in my late adolescence and in my twenties, by not one, but several extraordinary people." She earned a law degree and was a practicing attorney until her first novel, How the Light Gets In, was published, after which she concentrated on writing and teaching.

Hyland came to the United States as an exchange student while in her teens but was expelled from the program for drinking. She related to Brigid Delaney in an interview for the Sydney Morning Herald: "I'd been drinking since I was thirteen. I was just a regular teenager who drank. Suddenly I was in Idaho and I couldn't smoke, drink or hitchhike." The chief protagonist of How the Light Gets In, Louise Connor, is a bright sixteen-year-old from the slums of Sydney with similar habits, plus a love of Russian literature. Lou leaves her home to live as an exchange student in Chicago, but she and her host family, the affluent Hardings, have nothing in common. The mother, Margaret, is a capable former banker, and the hen-pecked father is usually absent. The son, James, is a creepy nerd, and the daughter,Bridget, spends her time shopping. Lou has few friends and turns to drinking and stealing money. Eventually, she is removed from the home and placed in a detention center, where she meets Lishny, a Russian chess master who is being questioned about the drowning death of his host family's baby. The intelligent Lou, who seems unable to make more of her life, was compared by several critics to Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. A Kirkus Reviews contributor remarked that the novel is a "story with grit and heart from an intelligent, perspicacious writer to watch."

Hyland next wrote Carry Me Down, the story of eleven-year-old John Egan, a boy who has experienced early puberty. With his already deepening voice, he is a tortured man-child who stands nearly six feet tall. The family first lives in Gorey, County Wexford, Ireland, with John's paternal grandmother and then moves to a low-rent high-rise in Dublin. His mother makes puppets and works in a shop to support the family, and his father, a possible adulterer, studies in hopes of attending Trinity. John indulges in fantasies and reads about giants and other oddities in The Guinness Book of Records; he possesses the remarkable the ability to know when someone is lying, at which point he vomits. Called a troll by other children, John is gifted in some ways and in others, slow. For instance, he is unable to foresee the consequences of his actions and does not experience normal emotions. Of this novel, Anne Julie Wyman wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that "Freud would have loved a kid like John Egan … his oedipal urges, his obsessions and mysterious dreams. Even if pop-psychological plot summary does the book no real justice, it is John Egan's mind that provides the entirety of the surreal, heartbreaking testimony that is Carry Me Down."



Booklist, April 15, 2004, Gillian Engberg, review of How the Light Gets In, p. 1424; February 15, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of Carry Me Down, p. 44.

Entertainment Weekly, March 24, 2006, Michelle Kung, review of Carry Me Down, p. 74.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2004, review of How the Light Gets In, p. 243; January 15, 2006, review of Carry Me Down, p. 56.

Library Journal, June 15, 2006, John G. Matthews, review of Carry Me Down, p. 57.

New Statesman, May 8, 2006, review of Carry Me Down, p. 56.

Observer (London, England), April 23, 2006, Geraldine Bedell, review of Carry Me Down.

Publishers Weekly, May 10, 2004, review of How the Light Gets In, p. 38; January 16, 2006, review of Carry Me Down, p. 38.


BiblioFemme,http://www.bibliofemme.com/ (September 12, 2006), Sinead Gleason, interview with M.J. Hyland and review of How the Light Gets In.

Guardian Online,http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (April 22, 2006), Kate Thompson, review of Carry Me Down.

How the Light Gets In Web site, http://www.howthelightgetsin.com (September 12, 2006).

Independent Online, http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/ (April 28, 2006), Patricia Craig, review of Carry Me Down.

Melbourne Age Online,http://www.theage.com.au/ (July 12, 2003), Owen Richardson, review of How the Light Gets In.

Pop Matters,http://www.popmatters.com/ (July 7, 2004), Nikki Tranter, review of How the Light Gets In.

San Francisco Chronicle Online, http://www.sfgate.com/ (March 19, 2006), Anne Julie Wyman, review of Carry Me Down.

Sydney Morning Herald Online, http://www.smh.com.au/ (July 18, 2003), Brigid Delaney, "Drama of a Life Less Ordinary"; (March 30, 2006), James Ley, review of Carry Me Down.

Times Online,http://www.timesoline.co.uk/ (April 8, 2006), Tom Gatti, review of Carry Me Down.

University of Melbourne Web site, http://www.unimelb.edu.au/ (September 12, 2006), brief biography of M.J. Hyland.