About the Book
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.
Format: Paperback (384 pages) Publisher: Hideaway Fall
Publication date: 30th November 2020 Genre: Contemporary fiction
Like the two previous books by the author I’ve read, Broken Branches and Drift Stumble Fall, 337 is strong on the detail of domestic life – the annual picnic in the park, a Sunday roast dinner – and the dynamics of family relationships. For Samuel, the book’s narrator, his childhood is punctuated by memories of tensions simmering beneath the surface of his grandparents’ and his parents’ marriage which occasionally boil over.
It quickly becomes apparent that Samuel’s life has been overshadowed by his mother’s disappearance when he was a child and the author deftly illustrates the emotional and psychological impact this has had. Not only has it caused an estrangement from his father and younger brother Tom, but it has led him to spend time in therapy. The sense of ‘unfinished business’ has also contributed to the breakdown of his marriage. Yet still he feels a compulsive need to find answers to a disappearance the police have long since consigned to the drawer marked ‘cold case’.
His grandmother’s impending death signals what may be his final opportunity to discover why his mother left and what became of her. It’s a prospect Samuel finds too difficult to resist, even if it means overcoming a breach between him and his grandmother that’s lasted nearly twenty years.
Those attracted by the mystery element of the book will be pleased to know it is liberally sprinkled with enigmatic phrases that could either be important clues or playful red herrings. There are other quirky features, some of which left me scratching my head trying to work out if they had hidden significance, and others which made me smile. Readers drawn to the book by the promise of a domestic drama will be rewarded with poignant scenes as Samuel gently tries to coax information from his dying grandmother whilst at the same time struggling to understand his own feelings of helplessness and frustration. However, I believe every reader will recall the words ‘Nothing is as it seems’ as they turn the last page.
I was fortunate enough to receive a limited edition copy of the novel from the lovely people at Hideaway Fall with its unique double-ended upside-down format. (Please note the double-ended upside-down version of the book is only available if purchased in hard copy from UK booksellers.) However, in whatever format you read 337, I think you’ll find your emotions a little topsy turvy by the end.
The author’s self-imposed challenge was “to 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“. Success.
In three words: Inventive, touching, insightful
Try something similar: Tell Me Where You Are by Moira Forsyth
About the Author
M. Jonathan Lee is a nationally shortlisted author and mental health campaigner. His debut novel, The Radio, was nationally shortlisted for the Novel Prize 2012. Since that time he has gone on to publish five further novels. 337 is his sixth novel. He is obsessed by novels 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.