Book Review: Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan

About the Book:

A heartbreaking novel of an extraordinary lifelong friendship.

Everyone has a Tully Dawson: the friend who defines your life.

In the summer of 1986, in a small Scottish town, James and Tully ignite a brilliant friendship based on music, films and the rebel spirit. With school over and the locked world of their fathers before them, they rush towards the climax of their youth: a magical weekend in Manchester, the epicentre of everything that inspires them in working-class Britain. There, against the greatest soundtrack ever recorded, a vow is made: to go at life differently.

Thirty years on, half a life away, the phone rings. Tully has news.

Mayflies is a memorial to youth’s euphorias and to everyday tragedy. A tender goodbye to an old union, it discovers the joy and the costs of love.

Published by Faber

Released September 2020

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed this novel immensely. I love the way that Andrew O’Hagan writes, effortless to read yet graced with a poetic beauty that would crop up at the most unsuspecting times. Mayflies is a novel of lifelong friendship, a group of young men on the cusp of adulthood, led by best friends Jimmy and Tully, all paving their way within working class Scotland against a background of ruthless Thatcherism. The atmosphere of the UK in the 1980s was recreated with such vigour and these young men, with their energetic youthful partying, their endless trading of insults, their obsession with music and movies, conversing in quotes from their favourite scenes and each of them knowing exactly what the other was referencing was just sublime. I will admit, half of the time, I had no idea what they were talking about, particularly with the music references more than the movies, but that really didn’t matter because it was the overall feeling of connectedness and friendship that drew me in and kept me reading. The bonds between these lads were strong and sure and their energetic banter honestly reminded me of my own 17-year-old son and his group of friends – they have that music and movie thing down pat as well. I found this first half entertaining and whimsical.

“Manchester was a byword for who we all were together, and who Tully was in particular, and it seemed easier to evoke him at his best than speak about the worst.”

The second half jumps forward thirty years, and the friendships are still real, although it is the bond between Jimmy and Tully that holds the strongest and remains the focal point of the novel. This second part was bittersweet. The humour was still there but the story takes a heavy turn that was both thought provoking and fraught with emotional intensity. There is something about being with people who have known you forever, who come from the same place and know all the same people as you that sets these relationships apart. The friendship between Jimmy and Tully was quite exclusive, the longevity of it and shared experiences created a closed circle of two that often excluded their wives.

“Men have a way of writing themselves into each other’s experience and placing it away from the women they love.”

I’m being rather evasive, I know, but I don’t want to spoil the story. I wasn’t aware of the direction the novel was headed in prior to reading and I enjoyed it even more for being in the dark. This novel has all the hallmarks of a cult classic, and I found it to be very enjoyable and deeply moving. Thought provoking themes were handled sensitively and objectively, and it’s the type of novel that offers a lot in the way of book club discussion. Above all, I just loved the way it was written, the beautiful passages interspersed with the humour and gritty realism, and in particular, I adored the ending scene; a brilliant and beautiful finish to what was all in all a pretty terrific novel.

“He wasn’t so much the butterfly as the air on which it travels.”

☕☕☕☕

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan

  1. I found the music references (almost) tedious, simply because I did live through this time and all those boys where the boys I went through high school with and they really did talk ad nauseum about this music and they constantly quoted movies etc!! But the second half, for me, was much better. Like you I didn’t know that was the direction the book was going to go in…and I found it very thought provoking.

    Liked by 1 person

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