337 by M. Jonathan Lee #BookReview

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.

The hardback version of  337 has a gorgeous cover which is double-ended and as well as the title 337 being a clever choice as it's the mirror image of M. Jonathan Lee's surname,  I could choose whether I wanted to start reading from the blue or yellow side! Intriguing, eh?!

Please note the double-ended upside-down opening is available for hard copy orders in the UK only. It would be a fabulous gift for somebody this Christmas but of course, what matters most is what's inside the covers and so I'm delighted to be sharing my review of 337 today. Many thanks to M. Jonathan Lee and Hideaway  Fall for sending me such a gorgeous hardback copy of the book.

337 opens with a vivid description of a family picnic; initially there's a dreamlike feeling to the writing which evokes a wistful sense of nostalgia but as the bird's eye view hones in on the Darte family, things gradually become, if not nightmarish, then certainly rather unsettling. This is Samuel Darte's story but just as this scene suggests not all is as it seems, so it is that he may be an unwittingly unreliable narrator whose recollections don't tell the full truth.
M. Jonathan Lee has a captivating writing style and I loved the conversational flow of 337 which drew me in as Sam confronts his troubled past and begins to understand that what he thinks he knows isn't necessarily the same as what actually happened. When he receives a phone call from his father, informing him that his grandmother, Gramma, is dying, Sam is left with little choice but to go and visit her despite having been estranged from her for many years.
Though clearly fading, Gramma isn't an immediately sympathetic character and at first there's an uncomfortable tension between her and Sam which is undoubtedly exacerbated by the claustrophobic nursing home room. However, as the book progresses, there are some beautifully written scenes between the two of them which are achingly poignant. Sam becomes increasingly desperate to find out what really happened to his mother but his recollections of the past don't always match with the memories of others, especially Gramma. I was intrigued by the gradual revelations regarding her disappearance and by the aftermath which tore apart a family who were seemingly already fracturing, perhaps beyond repair. 
One of the most striking aspects of the book is that it's those who are absent for one reason or another from Sam's life who exert such influence over the man he has become. His brother does make an appearance and it becomes evident that Sam is the more ostensibly stable brother while Tom is unreliable and has seemingly drifted through life. However, although Tom's addictions are more likely to be considered a problem by society, Sam's obsession with finding out what really happened to their mother is ultimately just as damaging.
I could readily empathise with Sam's fears that the imminent death of his grandmother would finally close a door on his past; it's not just the physical presence of a person that is lost when they die, their memories disappear with them. Despite the sombre subject matter, 337 never becomes maudlin and is instead brimming with warmth and a wry sense of humour which is complemented by the engaging narration that utilises all the tools in M. Jonathan Lee's extensive kit to create a perfectly paced, brilliantly plotted story with an almost poetical essence to it.
The mystery around Sam's mother's disappearance may lie at the heart of 337 but this complex tale is so much more than that. It's an emotive, compelling exploration of how our lives can be shaped by one significant event but it also acknowledges that we can create our own narratives around what happened, sometimes misremembering or altering our perception of moments, until what becomes one person's story isn't necessarily the definitive truth. This is a deceptively powerful book which almost imperceptibly drew me into its intense reflection on love, loss, betrayal and trust. 337 is a beautiful, bittersweet novel about the impact of endings and the enduring promise of hope, and is an affecting, memorable read. It gives me great pleasure to wholeheartedly recommend it.

337 will be published by Hideaway Fall on 30th November 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.

About the Author

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.