“Book Review: The Melancholy History of Mayfly”
Reviewed by Joe Walters
A prisoner sentenced to death tells the captivating story of how he arrived—and how his impact will remain—in The Melancholy History of Mayfly.
Creepy. Dark. And oh so lyrical. This gothic YA novel keeps you flipping pages with lingering mysteries, a damaged narrator, and some of the finest descriptive language I’ve read in a while. Strap yourselves in for a complex tale by a truly talented prose stylist.
We open this novel with an unnamed narrator in a damp, dark cell, awaiting his own death. After fleeting fancies about the solitude at the bottom of the sea and the electric 24-hour hour lives of buzzing mayflies, the narrator walks us through the tightly woven mystery of what exactly brought him here.
Despite apparent intelligence and a seemingly sensible demeanor, this young prisoner shares the beginning of his history, starting with his not-so-ordinary childhood. It turns out that his mother had refused that he leave the house, telling him that if he shared a look with anyone other than her, he would kill them just by his gaze. As a child, this curse forces him to be alone, demands that he keep his eyes hidden from ever achieving true connection. His evil step-father—prone to anger and claims that the narrator is the “devil’s spawn”—was the only other figure in his life, creating the damaged, lonely young man we see in his cell.
But our narrator won’t let the curse keep him hidden for long. He starts wandering out of the house during his teenage years, knowing that he could run into trouble but taking the risk anyway. That’s when a young woman sees him, speaks with him, and to his surprise, loves being around him. A gentle, loving relationship blossoms between our narrator and a kindhearted love interest, until their story takes a dark and dangerous turn.
If you’re looking for lyrical language, you’ll find it in droves in Mayfly. Even when the narrator speaks aloud, he uses a poetic language that leaves a pleasant sound in the ear, a mark of an author in control of his craft. A great number of twists and turns take us through an intricately woven plotline here, too. So combine this tight plot with the enjoyable prose, and you’ve found yourself a literary novel to hold dear.
“Erdon, with a thousand watts of sun that wither the scrubby vegetation and torture the air that shimmers in waves of suffocating heat, rising from the dead rocks.”
However, I did have one obstacle standing in my way of complete enjoyment of this novel. We learn to grow close to the narrator over the course of the story, up until the point of what actually brought him here. When it finally comes, our previously-sympathetic main character loses his charm by doing something unnecessary and a bit over-the-top, reverting the good plot into one dependent on backward ideals. While I understand his trajectory from damaged to problematic, I’m afraid the problem he creates results in a more uncomfortable climax than seems necessary.
Still, The Melancholy History of Mayfly keeps you close with strong prose and a mysterious plotline. For those who can look past a problematic twist, this novel is something you could read feverishly, in search of your own understanding of life like a 24-hour mayfly.
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