cover image Mayflies


Andrew O’Hagan. McClelland and Stewart, $22.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7710-1891-6

O’Hagan’s powerful if disjointed latest (after The Illuminations) explores a friendship between two men over three decades. Narrator Jimmy Collins and Tully Dawson, Glaswegian teenagers on the verge of adulthood in 1986, reconnect 31 years later after one of them is diagnosed with terminal cancer. The first half sets up Jimmy and Tully’s backstory, mainly through Jimmy’s time spent at Tully’s house after his parents abandoned him. As they grow, Jimmy looks forward to college and Tully works as a lathe turner at a factory. The section devoted to 1986 crackles with whip-smart dialogue and references to music and movies, and is buoyed by youthful male energy, notably when Jimmy, Tully, and their rowdy group of mates head to Manchester for an electronic punk festival. The second part, set in 2017, begins with one of the two getting a call from the other, who says he’s “totally fucked” with cancer spreading to his lymph nodes, and the men’s reunion challenges the limits of their friendship. Here, the tone and energy become somber and muted, starkly contrasting the opening section and offering an unfortunately abrupt transition. Though credibly forceful, this reads like two well-done short novels written under very different influences. Agent: Peter Straus, Rogers, Coleridge & White. (May)