Having read, thoroughly enjoyed and reviewed here M. Jonathan Lee’s Broken Branches some three years ago, I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to read and review his latest book 337 as part of the launch celebrations. My enormous thanks to Holly at Hideaway Fall for sending me a copy of 337 and for arranging for me to ‘stay in’ with Jonathan today.
Staying in with M. Jonathan Lee
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Jonathan. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
Hi Linda, it’s great to be here! Thank you for having me. Glad you’ve got the heating on, it’s so cold outside!
Let me know if you need the heating tweaking up a bit as we chat. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I’ve brought my newest and most exciting novel with me – 337. It comes out later this year on the 30th November and I thought I’d give you all a little preview of what’s been going on in the Hideaway Fall cabin this year.
Not long to go now then. Happy publication day for 30th November! What can we expect from an evening in with 337?
I wrote this book as a challenge to myself, to see if I could write a novel where the entire story hinges on the last word, which changes your view about many of the characters you’ve travelled through the story with. I’ve always been fascinated by the human condition and what leads people to do the things they do, and this story explores how the consequences of just one event can ripple through the years, changing everything. Expect all your perceptions to be challenged, nothing is as it seems.
You manage that brilliantly. I thought 337 was fabulous and am delighted to share my review below.
My own Nanna, Frances Joan died whilst I was writing the story and I remember feeling very panicked in her last few days that knowledge would disappear with her. This gave me the idea for a character disappearing without a trace, in just the same way as the knowledge.
Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope 337 can be a constant reminder of Frances Joan. Ironically, it’s the anniversary of my Dad’s funeral today so this conversation feels especially poignant.
What else have you brought along and why?
Well, I have brought a few picnic supplies with me, if you wouldn’t mind joining me for a cup of tea and a sandwich?
Always ready for a cuppa and a sandwich in this house!
You’re lucky that the basket is actually full of food today – we’ve been using it to haul 337 books around, my kids were very disappointed at the lack of sausage rolls!
I bet that took some lugging about. Why did you use a picnic basket?
A fraught family picnic in the park is what starts the whole novel in motion and is the last time young Samuel sees his mother so it seemed only right. Here’s a sneak peek at how the picnic goes down for the Darte family…
Everything is spread out on the blanket in front of us: an array of sandwiches, sausage rolls, tomatoes, lettuce, vol-au-vents, crisps, celery, cheese, crackers. We wait patiently as she removes the cling film from each item. Gramps lights his pipe and we all wait a little longer until he has finished smoking. I watch the smoke disappear into the blue sky and wish for a moment it was me. Eventually, Gramps collects his plate and begins to fill it with food. Again, we all wait, watching in silence until he has finished. Then he places his plate down on the grass next to him and bows his head solemnly. He closes his eyes and reopens them, and that is an indication that we can now join in.
Oh yes! I loved the opening of 337 as you headed towards the picnic memory Jonathan. In fact, I loved the entire book and once I’ve given blog readers some further information I’ll be sharing my review. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about 337.
337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens. It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note.
While their father pays the price of his mother’s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.
Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth.
Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes. But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.
337 will be published by Hideaway Fall on 30th November and is available for pre-order here. Please note the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only.
My Review of 337
Samuel’s grand mother is dying.
I had no idea what to expect from 337, but I hadn’t anticipated quite such a wonderful, poetic and beautifully written narrative. I was drawn in from the very first moment as M. Jonathan Lee took me into the story as if I were there visualising it with him in an almost dreamlike state. It’s that blurring of memory, truth and reality that ripples through the book so effectively that had me completely entranced. I found the physical structure of the writing superb too. M. Jonathan Lee knows exactly when one word is sufficient to convey incredible meaning. Repetition, description, plotting, direct speech – every aspect of a writer’s craft combines in 337 to be so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s a brilliant book.
The characterisation is wonderful. Told from Sam’s perspective, the reduced palette of characters in 337 means that there is an intensity to the narrative and all through the book I wasn’t entirely sure how reliable a narrator Sam was. His direct appeal to the reader means that they are taken directly into his confidence and yet his flexible approach to working from home introduces a slight sense of disquiet. I found this hugely effective. Particularly realistic for me was Sam’s time at his grand mother’s bedside. So many of the thoughts Sam experienced as he waited for her to die resonated with me from when I sat with my own father waiting for his final breath. I found this very, very moving.
It’s difficult to say too much about the plot, although in one sense very little happens, as this is a story of people and the reverberations of past actions rather than present ones, but I found it riveting. When M. Jonathan Lee inverts reader perceptions and expectations, I found my response quite visceral. Those whom I perhaps should have forgiven in the story I felt got what they deserved anyway. I was glad some things occurred as they did. I know this is vague but you’ll have to read the book to see what I mean.
The themes of 337 are magnificent. M. Jonathan Lee knows exactly how to shine a laser light into the human soul and lay it bare for all to see. Truth is at the heart of the narrative, but it’s a truth distorted by time, by memory and perception, so that it leaves the reader wondering how much of their own memory is blurred and created rather than actual. Themes of love, betrayal, manipulation, guilt, family, addiction and self awareness add layers of interest and emotion so that reading 337 is quite a highly charged experience. I couldn’t tear myself away.
Indeed, 337 is an intense, beautifully written exploration of humanity that I adored. I fear it may be a quiet book that many potential readers miss but I cannot recommend it highly enough.
About M. Jonathan Lee
M. Jonathan Lee (also known as Jonathan Lee) is an award-winning novelist who has had two novels in the top 10 Amazon charts. He was born in Yorkshire, northern England where he still lives today.
His first novel, the critically-acclaimed The Radio was shortlisted for The Novel Prize 2012 and is the first in the loosely titled The ‘The’ trilogy.
M. Jonathan Lee works closely with Rethink and Mind Charities to raise awareness of mental health issues, and is a regular commentator on the BBC.
His latest novel, 337, is due out on 30th November 2020 and is published by Hideaway Fall.
You can follow M. Jonathan Lee on Twitter @MJonathanLee, visit his website and find him on Facebook.