In a novel of two disparate sections, thrice-nominated Booker Prize author Andrew O’Hagan asks us to consider two fundamental questions: how should we live? How should we die?

The first part of the book is a coming-of-age, set in 1986, mainly in a dead-end town near Glasgow. Irvine is dour, its population decimated by the miners’ strike of 1984-1985, the mines’ closure and the economic austerity of Thatcherism. In this environment of working-class hardship, the family of literature-loving 18-year-old narrator Jimmy has disintegrated and dispersed, and he has been taken in by his best friend, Tully...

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