Mayflies: Exuberant trip into 1980s marred by chummy vernacular

Andrew O’Hagan’s then and now novel is affectionate but cluttered with influences

Andrew O’Hagan: Mayflies is not state-of-the-nation literature, but one which either wants to associate itself with state-of-the nation literature or stand in ironic relation to it. Photograph: Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty

Andrew O’Hagan: Mayflies is not state-of-the-nation literature, but one which either wants to associate itself with state-of-the nation literature or stand in ironic relation to it. Photograph: Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty

Mayflies, Andrew O’Hagan’s sixth novel, deals with serious subjects: the death of a friend, self-determination, and the devolution of British counterculture to the banalities of Brexit. It aims to do this with a profundity diffused by exuberance and, in this, shows little restraint.

Our narrator is James, a writer recalling the summer of 1986, during which he and his best friend – the irrepressible Tully Dawson – escape their post-mining town in Ayrshire for a Manchester music festival featuring New Order, The Smiths and The Fall. Manchester, for these self-aware boys, is not only the epicentre of Northern Soul but a symbol of working-class energy, from Shelagh Delaney to John Cooper Clarke and from Billy Liar to Coronation Street.

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