Friday, 12 February 2021

Mayflies by Andrew O'Hagan


Reviewer:
David C. Dawson

What we thought of it:


Only occasionally does a book come along whose every page contains at least one quotable phrase, at least one pithily worded exposition of the human condition that makes you stop and think.

Mayflies
is such a book.

On the surface it's a story about what happens to two friends from a small, nondescript Scottish town. The book starts in their optimistic late teens when they are carefree, daring, and rebellious. Then it jumps forward thirty years to when they are jaded in middle age.

But Mayflies is about far more than that. Woven lightly into this witty story of friendship are significant issues that may at some point affect all of us.

James, the narrator, is eighteen and his best mate Tully Dawson is twenty. They live in Scotland -  “Irvine New Town, east of eternity.”

Tully “had innate charisma, a brilliant record collection, complete fearlessness in political argument, and he knew how to love you more than anybody else.” James is in awe of him.

The first half of the book follows a reckless weekend in Manchester, when the two young men go to the G-Mex for a music festival headlined by The Smiths. Over the weekend they meet up with their friends and reveal dreams, ambitions and their rejection of practically every aspect of conventional life. 

“What we had that day was our story. We didn't have the other bit, the future, and we had no way of knowing what that would be like. Perhaps it would change our memory of all this, or perhaps it would draw from it, nobody knew." 

Thirty years later some of them are married, some of them are divorced. And Tully is about to reveal a major twist in the story. It puts James in an ethical quandary. Its resolution left me thinking for a long time after I’d finished the book.

O’Hagan’s story is genuinely unpredictable. He writes deceptively simple prose, which gives deep insights into our relationships with each other on every page. One of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Trainspotting by Irvine Walsh

Avoid if you don’t like: References to euthanasia

Ideal accompaniments: An indie soundtrack from the 1980s and a pint of Black & Tan

Genre: Contemporary

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