Hello Readers! I’m happy to shine spotlight and share my review of 337, modern day contemporary fiction, by M. Jonathan Lee, set to release on 30th November 2020. The look of the book needs the mention. It’s double-ended upside-down book you can read from both side. Many thanks to Hideaway Fall for sending me hardcover copy of this book along with ‘337 Nothing As It Seems’ pack’, in exchange for an honest review.
337 by M. Jonathan Lee
Publication Date : 30th November 2020
Publisher : Hideaway Fall
Genre : contemporary fiction
Pages : 340
“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.”
M Jonathan Lee’s new story is made even more exciting by how it is told. Not only do your opinions of the characters change on the very last word, but the book can also be read from both directions! It’s completely up to you to decide which way you’ll begin the novel – will you be a rebel and read from the back?
337 was well written contemporary that revolved around Sam and his family and their life after his mother left them. It was about bereavement, loss and pain of abandonment, tragedy, anxiety, hope, finding peace with past, and moving on with life.
Writing was beautiful, descriptive, emotive, and easy to follow. It was first person narrative written from Sam’s perspective. His daily life description and view point made it feel like reading through his dairy, it was as if we are seeing the world through his mind that was stuck in time which made the story different from other books about bereavement.
Plot was intriguing filled with mystery and suspense. It started with Sam’s mind drifting back to the day of family picnic, time he remembered his whole family together, a time he last saw his mother before she disappeared. Now in present, Sam was grown man, lived in same house his parents lived, had ordinary job and separated from his wife. After his mother’s disappearance his family fell apart. Sam no longer had any relation with his father (only occasional phone calls) and grandmother, his younger brother moved out away from the house that had many bitter memories. But when he got call from his father about his grandmother dying in nursing home, he decided to visit her in hope of getting any information she would able to provide about her mother’s disappearance.
It hooked me to story instantly and I had so many questions in just few chapters and wanted to find out what happened all those years ago, why his mother left, why she left them behind, if his grandma really knew anything and if finding the last piece of puzzle can finally give him peace and relief to move on in life.
There was so much more to the story than I thought. Apart from main theme of bereavement, there was layer of domestic abuse and police manipulations. As I was seeing everything and everyone through Sam’s mind it was tough to predict or form an opinion over other characters. All characters were realistic and relatable.
Sam at first looked loner, he had no friends or life, didn’t like his job, he would prefer not to interact with anyone. It’s like his life was stuck when his mother left and revolved around solving the puzzle of where she went, what happened to her and why she left, who knew about her whereabouts and until he joins the pieces of puzzle and solve it he didn’t feel at peace. But once I knew what exactly happened with his father and grandmother after his mother left, and the way people behaved and acted about the tragedy, I could see how difficult it was for him to getting over the trauma. But I liked how slowly and gradually, reconciliation with grandmother and later meeting his brother helped in healing the pain that kept festering for so long. His emotions and thoughts were raw and realistic. It was easy to feel his pain and understand his feeling.
I liked his grandmother from the beginning. Why Sam was estranged with her for 20 years was not revealed until second half of the book but yet I could see she was likable and she had he own baggage, her condition was exactly like Sam’s mother and yet she always stayed strong for her family, for her grandsons, making always tense atmosphere of home a little light, even gave a refuge to Sam’s mother when needed. Even after knowing that little mystery behind the argument, I could understand her and I felt sad for her even more. She definitely didn’t deserve all that happened in her family.
Sam’s bother, Tony was absent for first half of the story. We know him from Sam’s memory and what little conversation he had about him which didn’t create likeable picture. But as the story progressed, I could understand him better and I could see he had toughest time in life, he dealt with loss and tragedy differently, and in a way he was stronger and braver than Sam for finding his way and moving on in life. I liked how his presence and few days with Sam brought change in Sam’s life.
I didn’t like Sam’s father for his controlling and abusive nature. It was obvious he was the reason his mother left. I really questioned why Sam would keep contact with him or let him have control over him. As it was revealed what happened to him in his wife’s case, I started questioning everything. I could feel not everything was as it seemed and I could tell what was the truth about his mother at this point.
Mystery and suspense were well written. The mystery of reason behind Sam’s argument with grandma, where his father was now and why he couldn’t visit his own mother, who stole money from Sam at nursing home were revealed at just right time and they created page turning suspense. Last few chapter were emotive with death, Sam’s development, hope of positive relationship with his brother, and unexpected news. I feared this book will end without answering the question about his mother but we actually get it at the end in just few lines and I’m kind of happy to say I was right all along. This will give a lot to discuss over.
Overall, 337 was intriguing, emotive, touching and thought-provoking fiction, a well written story of family tragedy, loss, hope and relationships.
* Please note the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only. *
M Jonathan Lee is a nationally shortlisted author and mental health campaigner. His first novel The Radio was nationally shortlisted in the Novel Prize 2012. Since that time he has gone on to publish five further novels with 337 being his sixth novel. He is obsessed with stories with twists where nothing is exactly how it first appears. He was born in Yorkshire where he still lives to this day with his twins, James and Annabel.
Following two years at Barnsley College, he trained to be an accountant prior to leaving his job to travel extensively through North America, Oceania and Europe. He eventually studied business at the University of Central Lancashire. He continued to work as an accountant during the day, whilst writing in the evenings, until landing his first publishing deal in 2011.
A tireless campaigner for mental health awareness, Jonathan donated all profits from his third novel, A Tiny Feeling of Fear, to charity to raise awareness of mental health issues. He also writes a regular column for the Huffington Post and has recently written for the Big Issue and spoken at length about his own personal struggle on the BBC and Radio Talk Europe.
He has said of 337: “The initial challenge to myself was whether 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. Following that, I wanted to focus on how nothing is really ever as it seems. 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. The human condition and what leads people to do the things they do to one another is of constant fascination to me – which means that my stories with mysterious twists should never dry up.”
I hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know in comments what do you think about this book and my review, have you read this book already or going to add it to TBR.
If you enjoy my posts and blog, please consider supporting me.