Source: Review copy
Publication: 9th January 2020 from Viking
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. 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.
It’s hard to do justice to this stunning novel which I urge you to read. Anyone who remembers the Dunblane shootings, not so far away from where I am now, will recall the sense of horror and devastation that the horrific school shooting brought not just to parents and relatives but to a whole country.
Three Hours is, thankfully, not set in Scotland, but in a similar, small rural community in Somerset. It is a masterclass in exceptional writing and this book only works because of the power of that writing. That’s what makes it stand above the crowd. It is a book that centres itself in the middle of your heart and refuses to leave.
A heart-breaking story of love, courage and exceptional bravery in the face of a stark, cold and horrible planned attack, Three Hours is exceptional in its prose and in the way that Lupton has created characters that immediately claim their place in your mind and your heart and take up residence.
This is storytelling that rises above the crowd. The writing is exquisite, drawing you in to a completely shocking event, allowing you to experience the horror and the chaos that ensues and finally making you confront the awful, terrible truth of what is going on.
Lupton’s chilling and deeply atmospheric narrative moves forwards and back in time, letting the reader experience the most terrible three hours we will ever know where the very definition of innocents is threatened by malice and hatred so strong that it is determined to wipe out everyone who threatens its world view.
Set against this is a completely overwhelming story of love and hope and everything that is good in our world. Immense courage and fortitude; leadership and compassion shine through this most terrible of times.
The triumph of this book though is not just in how it makes us experience these events and feel the urgency and the compassion. It is in the way that Lupton gently and without any sense of lecturing draws the path through our turbulent times to show us just how this has become a plausible reality.
She shows us, gently and without comment, how our society made this kind of behaviour possible and why kindness and love now have to battle against hatred and false reporting every day.
I can’t adequately express how good this book is, how completely it immerses you in the story, how the prose wraps itself around your heart and squeezes hard.
Verdict: Buy it; read it; you will not be sorry. A finer piece of prose writing will be hard to find.
Rosamund Lupton is the author of four novels. She graduated from Cambridge University in 1986. After reviewing books for the Literary Reviews and being invited to join the Royal Court Theatre, she won a television play competition and subsequently worked as a screen writer. Her debut novel Sister, was a BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime, a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, has been translated into over thirty languages and has international sales of over 1.5 million copies. It was the fastest-selling debut of 2010 by a British author, and was winner of the Richard and Judy Best Debut Novel of 2011 Award and the Strand Magazine Critics First Novel Award. Film rights of Sister are currently under option.
Lupton’s critically acclaimed second novel Afterwards also went straight into the Sunday Times bestseller lists and was the No. 2 Sunday Times fiction bestseller of 2011. The Quality of Silence her third novel was a Sunday Times best seller and a Richard & Judy bookclub pick.