A Catalan reader, Susana Aballanet, who enjoys an extraordinary command of English, had this to say about SNUG (20/04/2014, via email):
If I had to define your novel in a few adjectives, I would say SNUG is intense, catchy, engaged and stylistically risky and ambitious. Let me explain. Intense: the plot gradually unfolds an exceptional but believable situation in which the characters are put on the ropes. Catchy: throughout its 441 pages, there isn’t a dull moment, any part the reader could do without, and you always keep the reader’s attention. Engaged: racism and especially the British (and the first world, by extension) disregard of the effects of colonialism, with its still pervading prejudices, drive the novel and you make your point through the protest tone the novel adopts. Stylistically risky and ambitious: you made a bold bet by experimenting with the narrative voice. The multiplicity of narrators provides a detached point of view, and it is a good way to approach the complexity of the issues of racism and colonialism you deal with, without being pretentious.
This message about SNUG was sent recently by Seamus Shortt, a conservationist writer, whose informative story for all ages, including some beautiful illustrations by the author and photos of rare wildlife, has just come out. It’s called ‘Montevivo’: http://www.nhbs.com/montevivo_tefno_195053.html
As for SNUG he had the following to say (BWSBN is an acronym for the Boy Who Shall Be Nameless, one of the novel’s main characters):
A fine piece of satirical writing against the motherland! It was easy to read as good books should be. Original as I expected – I liked the way the chapters moved from one characters perspective to anothers and back again. Strange how BWSBN is the one who is so torn apart by the final events while Lucy is just matter of fact about things in the end… just the way people are.
The English novelist Richard Hayden sent this via email on 27/02/2014:
“At long last I got round to buying and reading SNUG.
First thing, I really loved it, hugely enjoyable (in a very discomforting way), lovingly crafted, technically intriguing and above all, well done, a book with balls of fucking steel! (put that that on the back cover or even the front – I dare you)
You hit the mood, the feel of the 70s really accurately – I remember IofW from family holidays. The 12-year-old’s perspective was toe-curlingly reminiscent of that time. The mixture of innocence (board games, politeness, diffidence) and the blood-lust bred into the bone by comic books and war movies (633 Squadron, The Dambusters – those soundtracks transfixed me long before the Beatles).
The racist Dad, wow. The way events transform a casual, racist boor into a fully-fledged graduate of the Buenos Aires Navy School was shocking (so shocking I didn’t want to credit it as a reader) – you did it unflinchingly. The same with your use of “forbidden” words – no wonder no UK publisher wopuld touch it, too explosive for them. Whata shame, it could and should be igniting debate – being ignored by mainstream publishers is an honour in your case!
As a novel, the pacing is great, the vicious twists (horribly inevitable though they are), the absence of even a hint of redemption – exactly what it needed. There’s no better sign than when a reader starts to space out the last 50 pages or so to prolong the reading experience.
And that final communique fromn the visitors, that really threw a new perspective on things for me, broadened the whole debate out and made me think how the “african problem” is portrayed in the media.
Bloody good job. A really, truly, good novel.
Next time you’re in the UK or when I’m back in Catalunya in a few weeks, it’d be good to meet up and chew it over a bit more.
It took journalist Lorena Cervera weeks (and weeks) of work to do this trailer, and the result is really quite something. Here it is:
The London-based journalist Lorena Cervera has done a fantastic job of blending all the microinterivews posted below, and mixing them in with images of the Isle of Wight – where the novel is set – and further material. This then, is the definitive ‘report’ on the book. The book trailer itself will be coming shortly.
London-based Catalan journalist Lorena Cervera filmed these nine extremely short (and extremely well-made) brief interviews, about how and why SNUG was written, the reactions it’s had and the ideas behind it.
1. The novel SNUG: the creation process:
2. The different narrative voices in the novel SNUG:
3. Writing in English (instead of Catalan):
4. Sources for SNUG:
5. The Isle of Wight setting for SNUG:
6. Summary of the plot:
7. Readers’ reactions to SNUG:
8. Basic ideas behind the novel:
This is what a mysterious Glykerion said about SNUG on Amazon.co.uk, on 11/12/2013:
=&0=&, 11 Dec 2013
James Manresa Paddon is an Anglo-Catalan writer and translator who also works as a second officer on a rescue vessel off the Scottish coast. He recently (12/11/13) sent me this report on SNUG, the first book of mine he’d read in English.
I finished reading Snug and I can say I enjoyed it very much. Your style is much different from many of the English novels I have read before. I find it very personal, blending the telling of the story with the inner thoughts of the characters in such a way, that one gets to think he has known them personally for years. Each of them breathe in their own way, some transpiring their racism, others their teenage discovery of life and others losing their innocence about the world. I confess at the same time it made me regret not having been more skilled in the language of the country which saw me born. As I said to you one day, although I read a lot in English, I lack the richness of the everyday-slang, the expressions, the sayings and the details that only a complete immersion can provide, as you well know as a brilliant writer in Catalan, an originally foreign language to you. Precisely this was one of the reasons I was so much in to Snug, as it allowed me to “live” in this world of details and words in English I have lacked because of living in Catalonia since I was a kid. It has enlightened me over the richness of the language I ought to know and it has proved you have finally been capable of making it malleable —a condition you declared in the past English seemed to lack— to a surprising extent. Apart from the language (sorry I am not talking about the story, but I enjoy the bricks which it is built with as much as the story itself), the story gripped me from the beginning, I liked especially how you masterly managed to solve all the apparent difficulties as to give credit to the story, when it is an apparently improbable situation. I believed everything as it had really happened and you also made me look into an Atlas to find out more about Africa and it’s history. Snug abducted me, I found myself thinking about Lucy, Dr Whitebone or the fate of Coldwater Bay mixed with my real day to day worries, I loved the twists and turns of it and I even read on the ship where I work, laying in bed seasick while 10 meters waves were rocking us furiously, unable to let go of the bloody book despite my wretched state. I find it a privilege and a very interesting experience to be able to enjoy the two versions of the same writer, I knew you in Catalan, and now in English. Congratulations, I’ll be waiting for your next one!
Published on October 29th, 2013
Author Pitch: Snug by Matthew Tree
Matthew Tree is a well known author in his adopted homeland of Catalonia. Snug — a provocative and darkly funny indictment of racism in contemporary Britain — is his first published work in English. Already popular with book groups in Catalonia, Snug has been praised by journalist and fellow honorary Catalan, Matthew Parris.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I was born in London at the tail end of 1958. After having tried to give up writing in my late teens, I realised at 20 that I would have to keep on doing it, even though I kept coming across stumbling blocks with my mother tongue – British English – that made it difficult to find my written voice. Circumstances led to me teaching myself Catalan at age 19, and several years later, when I had moved to Barcelona, I got a chance to publish a text written in Catalan. Finding that I had no stumbling blocks with that language, I went on to write two novels, a collection of stories, an autobiography, a road book and several non-fiction books, all in Catalan and all published. Ideas started coming back to me in English around about 2003, and six years later finally gelled in a new English-language novel, called Snug. When working on it, I discovered that my old stumbling blocks with English had finally been hurdled.
This review just appeared (21/10/2013) in the American Kirkus Review…
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Mysterious visitors to an isolated British seaside resort bring on a backlash of violence.
Tree (Barcelona, Catalonia: A View from the Inside, 2011, etc.) has created a witty, frightening book lancing British arrogance, racism and smugness. Told in the voices of several characters, including the racist, anti-Semitic Dr. Whitebone; his 14-year-old daughter, Lucy; and her horny 12-year-old friend, whom she calls the Boy Who Shall Be Nameless, or BWSBN, the novel recounts a series of strange events and the muddled, misguided and violent reactions they precipitate. On vacation in Coldwater Bay on the Isle of Wight, Dr. Whitebone, his family and young guests soon find entrance to and egress from the village blocked and the phone lines cut. The doctor enlists the help of a local police officer and singles out the village’s lone black resident and a family of rich Arabs for secret torture. Eventually, a group of Africans emerges from the village’s sea caves to explain how and why they’ve sealed off Coldwater Bay. They’re a kind of expeditionary force responding to centuries of European colonization and brutalization of their continent. They’ve come in peace and make the village a kind of Club Med. Trying to be a hero to Lucy, however, the BWSBN escapes and alerts the authorities, then rides along in a helicopter as British jet fighters secretly bomb the Africans as they’re peacefully leaving for France in a trawler. Years later, more sordid details emerge. BWSBN, now 21, alcoholic and impotent, runs into Lucy in London and gets the full scoop: the torture and death of the black man, the beating death of the rich Arab patriarch—both innocent—and the trial and acquittal of Dr. Whitebone for the black man’s death. BWSBN is horrified, but the one-time love of his life has smugly decided, like her compatriots in a broader context, that it’s all for the best: “They’re different from us….They had no business being here.” Though Tree moved from England to Spain and began writing in Catalan after suffering from writer’s block in his native tongue, this novel proves his facility with English. His prose sparkles with razor’s-edge wit reminiscent of the great British satirists, though in a gentler way and with a core of disillusion and dismay.