Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton which was published earlier this week. This is a very dramatic and emotional read that has been highly rated by my blogging peers so I was intrigued to see what it was all about. My thanks to publishers Penguin who supplied a copy for review via Netgalley. Here’s what it’s about:

About the Book

Three hours is 180 minutes or 10,800 seconds.

It is a morning’s lessons, a dress rehearsal of Macbeth, a snowy trek through the woods.

It is an eternity waiting for news. Or a countdown to something terrible.

It is 180 minutes to discover who you will die for and what men will kill for.

In rural Somerset in the middle of a blizzard, the unthinkable happens: a school is under siege. Told from the point of view of the people at the heart of it, from the wounded headmaster in the library, unable to help his trapped pupils and staff, to teenage Hannah in love for the first time, to the parents gathering desperate for news, to the 16 year old Syrian refugee trying to rescue his little brother, to the police psychologist who must identify the gunmen, to the students taking refuge in the school theatre, all experience the most intense hours of their lives, where evil and terror are met by courage, love and redemption.

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My Thoughts

I have ummed and ahhed about this review. Not just what I want to put in it, but whether I should write it at all. Not because I didn’t enjoy the book, because I did, and not because I don’t think that it’s beautifully and very skilfully written, because it is. I’m just not sure if I am entirely the right audience for a book which draws heavily upon the internal fears of every parent – the possibility that they may lose a child.

I am not a parent. Never will be. It’s not in my genetic make up. That lack of maternal instinct has meant that I likely read this book in a very different way to most of my fellow bloggers. I read this as a voyeur first, the kind of person who might see the subject of a school siege on the news and think ‘how awful’ before moving on with my day, as opposed to those who would sit there and think ‘that could be my child’ who will have an entirely different emotional reaction to what they see, or in this case read, than I would. I have nephews and nieces and I would be devastated if anything were to happen to them, but it’s not quite the same thing. And so rather than becoming emotionally invested or immersed in this book in the way a parent would, I was an outsider looking in.

And yet … Rosamund Lupton has done an absolutely stunning job here. She has created an atmosphere and a tension in this book that draws you in as a reader. Not in a necessarily ghoulish or voyeuristic way, but by giving you just enough of a bit of each of the most relevant characters to engage you. To make you care about them and their fates, be it one of the students caught up in the school, the Detective trying to get to the bottom of who is behind the siege, or the parent waiting and praying desperately to hear good news about their child. There is such dramatic tension in each page that you feel compelled to read on but not because you want to hear something awful has happened, because you are hoping it won’t.

The characters in this book are diverse, a reflection of the kind of school in which the action is set. A liberal college which embraces diversity – exactly the kind of target you might expect for those who are against diversity in any form. It is a timely story, not because we are necessarily overrun with school sieges – thank god – but because of the growing sense of hatred that is prevalent in our modern society, something which is brought out in the narrative perfectly. For every act of tolerance and inclusion there is a counter, and in this case it is taking its most extreme form.

The are moments of high tension, moments that will make you hold your breath and pause, waiting to see if all will be okay. There is also a strong sense of family, of faith and of hope, in spite of everything. For some, their worlds will be torn apart by those three hours, for others, it will mark a change but one which is for the better. The constant use of Macbeth throughout as a dramatic device, the play that the children are rehearsing at the time of the siege, is very clever and serves to highlight the very nature of evil and darkness, allowing the children to make sense of the carnage in their own way.

The imagery is stark, putting readers at the heart of the action and letting them feel the chill of the snow as it falls all around them, adding another layer of jeopardy to an already impossible situation. The final third of the book is so tense, the pacing increasing with every page turn, that I was glued to the page to the end.

I loved the characters of Rafi and Basi, how the author drew upon their backstory of fleeing Syria. It has a heavy part to play in the story, but the strength and bond between the two brothers who have already lost everything apart from each other, is both heartwarming and thought provoking, forcing you to think about what sacrifices you might make for family. Family is definitely a strong theme in this book and the fragility of those bonds, even genetic ones, are shown in dramatic style.

This is a beautifully written book, rich in language and symbolism with themes of extremism, hate, racism and isolation. The styling may throw some, the narrative moving between characters without warning, capturing all of them in that brief moment in time that makes up those critical three hours. But is is an important book in that it holds up the sense of love against the feeling of hate and gives us hope that love is the stronger emotion, despite everything you might see and hear these days. So whilst my journey in reading this book may not have been the same as that which parents would take, I still recognise this book for the brilliant piece of literature that it is, one that will make you want to hold your loved ones that little bit closer.

7 thoughts on “Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

  1. Thanks for mentioning the non-maternal side of our world here 🙂 Like you, it’s not in my genes, I’m a dog mama, thank you very much! No kids allowed! Yet I couldn’t help but turn the pages, as you said, almost like a voyeur. Then I felt, for the characters who went through so much. But surely, my emotions were different from those of a parent. As usual, amazing review x

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    1. Absolutely. I have read other reviews and a lot very much from being able to identify with the parents etc. For me I read it purely as a crime novel which worked on many levels but was clearly more deliberate and thoughtful than action packed. An interesting experiment if you like.

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  2. I really like your review – it is interesting to read the thoughts from someone who hasn’t got children as I completely identified with the mother in the story! Glad you still reviewed it – I thought it was an amazing book!

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