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The Case of a Young Man Down on His Luck

by Mary J. Oliver


now published in US and Canada 

Jim Neat Cover.jpg
Mary J Oliver
Mary J Oliver
Guardian Poem of the Month Mary J Oliver


Poem of the month: Bicep to Bicep by Mary J Oliver

Each month the Guardian’s Review section selects a poem to highlight

Each month the Guardian’s Review section selects a poem to highlight

Toronto Gaol


19th November 1935


Dearest Baby Queen


I’m sorry but this is where I am. I’ve committed no felony but have gone to the dogs. Lizbietta is dead. I can hardly remember what’s happened since then. I ended up in Toronto, taking narcotics again – you can imagine the results. I’ve been and still am going through absolute hell, in and out of this place more times than I can count.


It will be hard for you to understand how harsh a place this country can be. Please keep this from Dad. Apart from that, I need no help.


Your loving brother






13th September 1943


My beloved Kate


Today I found a boy hiding alone in the mountains. He was scared but had no understanding of the war. With a few words of Arabic that I’ve learned, I persuaded him to come back to the village with me. But I think of the bombs falling in London, and you cowering under the kitchen table, and I should be there, not here, I should be with you.


I resent every day of this war, yet every day I love you more. Countless numbers of kisses to you,


Always yours





I was lucky enough to be asked to write a reader’s report for The Book Council of Wales. I read Jim Neat, a wonderful memoir, over a Scottish weekend camping in these recent storms and couldn’t put it down! There’s a poem within that

Jim wrote about his brother-in-law suffering shell-shock which I can’t stop thinking about. Jim’s character feels so alive.

It’s such a GOOD book, folks - one of my TOP reads this year. I hear a film AND a stage play are in the pipeline – huge congrats to Mary J. Oliver, so well deserved. Jim would be proud! 

Manda Nicholls, an avid reader

I am the amazed reader of Jim Neat. I’ve read it twice, the second time in one sitting. What an incredible work of love, imagination, respect and repair. I was very touched by Jim’s difficult, brave endurance, as he is assailed by every test of harsh reality. Here his poet daughter works the scant yet extraordinary facts, & weaves them into a work that gets to the bones & questions what it is to live.  


I was touched by the flavour of the particular with which Mary J. Oliver imbues the narrative of Jim Neat, his times, her times, our times. It is an epic and beautiful work, leaving me charmed and haunted.  

Sophie Herxheimer, author of: 

60 Lovers to Make and Do

(Henningham Family Press) 

Velkom to Inklandt

(Short Books) 

Jim Neat is one of the best books I’ve ever read. The attention to detail, the humour, the pathos, the amazing Dr Fletcher, the intricacies, all so vivid! I was in floods of tears at Lizbietta's diary and am totally in love with Jim.


This is a huge success; and the writing is so good. It’s a life changing book, I’m truly gobsmacked. I can’t believe it’s  not with Penguin or some huge publisher – Seren really need to promote it. It should be reviewed in high places. And widely available. I adore it. And I adore Mary J.Oliver for writing it.

Jess Mookherjee, Poet

Mary J. Oliver’s decision to cast parts of the book as poems worked well and the cross-genre approach was an effective way of pulling together the disparate strands of a fragmented life. I was reminded of Anne Stevenson’s Correspondences.

‘Jim Neat’ is a very moving story, a great tribute to an unremembered man. I think we have such a strange view that life should be untroubled; it certainly wasn't for him, and is not for most people. I enjoyed the humanity of Dr Fletcher, the contrasting characters of Bliss, Lola and Kate, not to mention the remarkable Frank Schofield. Jim himself remains a mystery; it's not clear where his demons came from, his club foot, his unexplored family, or something biochemical? What is also a mystery is how much was real and how much was imagined by the author?   


For the purposes of Dr Schofield, I have given a copy of the book to the Archives at the University of Guelph and Mary J. Oliver has also kindly donated the original letters that she came across in her research, to the institution. 

John Prescott, author of:

'The Story of John McCrae'

(poet who wrote 'In Flanders Field')

University Professor Emeritus,

University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. 


This is a scrupulously-observed and moving account of the author’s investigation into her family history.  Tantalizing glimpses from her father Jim’s letters give clues to his long-concealed past including his life in Canada. 


These glimpses are built upon and vividly brought to life. Detective work is applied to a gamut of emotions and memories, set in place alongside the hard-won facts, in writing that is direct, disciplined, and beautifully paced. 


We share the unfolding drama with the author as she engages with the power, tragedy, and catharsis of the past. 

Penelope Shuttle, Author and Poet

Neil Astley, BloodAxe Books

Jim Neat is a striking, tough and haunting debut from Mary J. Oliver. A real rollercoaster. 


Katrina Naomi, Poet

I thoroughly enjoyed every moment, twist and turn as the story unfolded and as the different voices brought different aspects of the story alive. What an incredible mark the author has made. This great story has the makings of a fabulous drama.



Gary Liggett, Poet, Film Maker

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