‘Mayflies’ – Andrew O’Hagan

When we first meet James and Tully they are music-obsessed teens railing against the world. Their group of friends squeeze the life out of every experience, helped by alcohol and whatever they can get their hands on. Their defining moment is a trip to Manchester for a gig at the new G-Mex. We follow them on their weekend as they visit places they’ve heard about and are desperate to experience.

This section of the book was important in order to establish the bond between the group, but particularly between James and Tully.

The friendship between the two is maintained throughout adulthood. They support one another in their attempts to navigate their adult years, and the bond between them is clearly strong.

While I enjoyed this from the perspective of someone who’d visited many of the places mentioned, it didn’t strike me as particularly memorable. I wondered why so much was made of the book…but then came the second part.

Set thirty-one years after their trip to Manchester the two men remain firm friends. James is a writer and Tully a teacher. They are both successful, and in relationships that appear to be good. It also signals the beginning of the end for these two.

When Tully texts James to ask him to call, we know it’s not going to be good. He announces he has cancer, has four months to live and that he wants help to manage the last months of his life. James, out of respect for their friendship, agrees to support him.

What follows was an unsentimental account of one man’s determination to end his life as he lived it…controlling his narrative. There were rather mawkish scenes as each comes to accept what’s happening, but it explored attitudes to death and the extent to which we might influence the lives of others. The final scene had an understated exuberance to it that left me feeling a peace I wasn’t expecting to.