Snug by Matthew Tree

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Snug by Matthew Tree

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A deceptively simple story, with unsuspected layers, which leaves you thinking about our colonial history in a way you might not have done before. Highly recommended. Matthew Tree popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 454 Date: March 2013
Publisher: AK Digital
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-8461631148

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The Boy - we never do know his name - fancied Lucy something rotten, despite the fact that she was two years older than him - and that's quite a gap when you're only twelve. He was absolutely delighted when Lucy's parents wanted to take Lucy and three other kids on holiday to the Isle of Wight with them, along with Lucy's brother Simon, a teenager who was in the army. They'd rented a house in Coldwater Bay, a tiny village on the southern coast of the island. All went well, if even a little boringly, for a few days until Mrs Whitebone set off to take the children to the Needles and found the road blocked by tree trunks which had obviously been sawn for the purpose. Then it seemed that the telephone lines had been cut.

Before long it's obvious that there is something very strange going on. The village has been invaded and the residents are prevented from leaving. Much of this part of the story is told by Dr Whitebone, JP and you probably know all that you need about him when you see the title of those chapters which he narrates: I'm Not A. He's racist, homophobic, anti-semitic and completely full of himself. Back in the early seventies, when the main part of the story is set, it wasn't unusual to hear such statements as Whitebone makes, but the difference here is that when the village is cut off he also has the power to back his prejudices, because, you see, the people who invade the village are black. Whitebone knows that there must be an inside man who has given information to the invaders and he really doesn't care what he has to do to get a confession from those he suspects.

At first you laugh at the casual racism, the way it's assumed that that is how decent people will think. You hoped that the aftermath of the war might have got people past being anti-Semitic, but then you realise that it's a position to which some people easily revert as for instance when the actions of Israel are regularly accredited to Jews everywhere. And, yes, calling someone 'a poofter' is an easy insult for a certain type of person. But there comes a point in the book when you realise that the invasion of the village is the negative image of what we did in colonial times: the understanding of the reactions on both sides came as a shock to me.

It's half a century since I read William Golding's Lord of the Flies, but Snug brought the book back to me on many occasions, with the way that power is used then abused, sadistic tendencies are given a loose rein and the easy target is taken first. There is horror and sexual content but neither are gratuitous or outside the context of the plot. Characters are excellent and complex - I really felt for the Boy who was still suffering because of that holiday more than a decade later and it was difficult to say that any of the people involved in what happened that week emerged unscathed.

On the surface it appears to be a simple story but it has more layers than an onion and leaves you with plenty to think about afterwards. I had to find out what happened and it was after three o'clock this morning when I tuned the final page but a good hour before I could sleep as I mulled over what we had done to other countries and the trauma of doing what is right, even brave but having your actions cause death. It's a book that will stay with me and one which I'm sure I'll reread.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

It's difficult to recommend further reading after a book like his: I'm tempted to direct you to books about our colonial past but if you're looking for fiction then you might enjoy Acts of Omission by Terry Stiastny, another story where doing the right thing causes problems.

You can find our more about Matthew Tree here.

Bookinterviews.jpg Matthew Tree was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

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