If Only by Matthew Tree

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If Only by Matthew Tree

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Buy If Only by Matthew Tree at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A young man is detained in St James's Park in London. He's carrying a bag full of high explosives and ten letters sent to his grandfather by poet and writer, Malcolm Lowry. The police are determined to find out why.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 246 Date: October 2021
Publisher: England-Is-A-Bitch Productions
ISBN: 978-8409290109

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Twenty-one-year-old Malcolm Lowry had been sent abroad by his father, cotton-broker AO Lowry: he asked his accountant, Mr Patrick, to ensure that the young man got on board the boat and thereafter Patrick was to send him a monthly allowance. Patrick sent the money regularly and a correspondence - of sorts - sprang up between the two although we hear more about what Lowry has to say than Patrick. It wasn't that Lowry senior didn't care for his son, it was that he didn't care to have him in this country where he might be a danger to his wife and other children. The alcohol problem was obvious even before Patrick managed to get the young man on his way.

Decades later, another young man was apprehended by the police in St James's Park, London. He was carrying a bag of high explosives and in his pocket were ten letters from the writer and poet, Malcolm Lowry, to the young man's grandfather, Mr Patrick, from various parts of the world. They began in Paris, moved to New York, Los Angles and then Mexico. By seeming coincidence, Patrick's grandson had recently made similar journeys.

At first, the police don't believe that the letters are genuine: if they are, they would be extremely important literary artefacts. When they do accept them as genuine, they become valuable as tools of interrogation. Our protagonist is interviewed by a Detective Chief Inspector and a psychiatrist, Dr Murray Bishop:

I personally can't see any connection at all between what is described in these letters so far, and why you should be walking aimlessly in the park with a bag full of explosives. Perhaps, you, however, might be able to enlighten me a little?

We're going to find out a great deal about the lives of the two young men and the influences that drove them to be as they were and are. It's a superbly-constructed plot with the interrogators extracting the information piece by piece until we understand what was intended to happen - and why. In many ways this was nothing more than I expected - Matthew Tree's Snug has more plot layers than an onion. I found that after I'd finished If Only I went back and reread certain sections just for the pleasure of seeing how the plot had been built.

The characterisation is excellent. Lowry is obviously not a fictional character but his life is brought off the page and into your mind. (As an aside, Tree's grandfather and Malcolm Lowry were regular correspondents.) Our would-be bomber is deeply troubled - and he invades your mind. He identifies with Malcolm Lowry - but Lowry saw no need for violence.

There is graphic sexual content and some scenes will create horrific images in your mind. It's all essential to the plot and there's nothing gratuitous but if this is not to your taste, you might be better avoiding the book.

As with all Tree's work, the writing is exquisite. He creates vivid pictures in remarkably few words:

...the train creeping into Paris like a thief...

I frequently found myself going back and reading paragraphs just for the pleasure of the words. Initially, I read If Only over a couple of days: it's not a long read but it's certainly a big one and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

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Buy If Only by Matthew Tree at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy If Only by Matthew Tree at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.

Buy If Only by Matthew Tree at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy If Only by Matthew Tree at Amazon.com.

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