Rosamund Lupton, Three Hours

Rosamund Lupton, Three Hours (Viking, 2020)

I recently watched the 2019 Patrick Vollrath film 7500, set almost entirely in the cockpit of a passenger plane attacked by terrorists. It’s a daring premise, and just about works as a nail-biting thriller. Rosamund Lupton’s new novel Three Hours is similarly constrained in terms of setting; hers is more expansive, but still has claustrophobic units within it – classrooms and a school theatre set within a huge woodland campus of a progressive school in rural Somerset. Her plot also deals with an imperilled group of adults in a position of care and responsibility for a vulnerable group, in this case the large body of pupils in the school, with ages ranging from five to eighteen, under attack from armed terrorists.

I heard about it on the BBC Radio 4 book programme A Good Read, and bought it for Mrs TD. She loved it, and recommended it to me.

Lupton Three Hours cover Penguin

Our copy of Three Hours has been passed on to another family member before I could photograph it, so this image is from the Penguin website

The central plot is taut and well handled: during the three hours of the attack, will the police forensic psychologist and her team of officers and counter-terrorism experts figure out who the masked gunmen are, and hence what their motives might be, so that a strategy for negotiation or extraction can be devised? There are several heart-stopping twists along the way, that make it impossible to say more without spoilers.

Mixed in are several entwined narratives involving individual groups of pupils and staff, each endangered and vulnerable in their own ways. Gradually a smaller group of key individuals emerges into focus, each one with their own neatly-drawn backstory, all of which contribute to the driving central narrative. It’s a nail-biting ride.

Most engaging and moving is the developing story of two young Syrian refugees, brothers Rafi and Basi, aged sixteen and six respectively. In flashbacks we learn the terrible experiences and ordeals they endured as they made their escape from their war-ravaged homeland. Rafi as a consequence suffers from PTSD, making his response to this new life-threatening menace even more raw and heartbreaking. Rafi’s selfless love for and commitment to protecting his traumatised little brother are movingly portrayed.

The overwhelming message that the novel leaves is that love is more powerful than hate, and the bonds that tie us – family, lovers, schoolmates, work colleagues – are the most important thing in human experience. Not the most original theme, perhaps, but it’s not too cheesily realised.

I could have done with a bit less of the rather laboured parallels with Macbeth.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Rosamund Lupton has been a scriptwriter – it’s easy to imagine this novel becoming a successful film or tv series.

 

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10 thoughts on “Rosamund Lupton, Three Hours

  1. I always feel a bit manipulated when I read books by scriptwriters… I can feel the cliffhanger coming, and there it is, and then there’s another one… and here’s a moment of pathos (which will have the cheesy music) … then another cliffhanger…

  2. I read Sister and Afterwards – Lupton’s first two books. Both were not at all my usual fare but each had me gripped. I still don’t know whether it would be correct to say that I enjoyed them but I can certainly say that they were brilliantly written.

  3. I heard Lupton speak about this novel at a Penguin RH preview for booksellers last autumn. It sounded very compelling, a view that fits with your reflections on the book. A friend is a big fan of Sisters (one of this author’s earlier novels), so that might be of interest to the two of you, especially given your responses to Three Hours?

    • Mrs TD says she’s read and enjoyed Sisters, so perhaps I’ll give it a go – if and when I clear the current backlog. Still got to visit the recently reopened library to collect a reserved book, and finish a translated Canadian French novel I just started. Also need to draft a response to recently finished Stefan Zweig novell(a), The Post Office Girl. Not a terribly uplifting read, but intriguing.

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