Lupton’s Three Hours is one of those wonderful things: a tense, compelling and atmospheric thriller that’s also literary. It’s superbly well written and well plotted, psychologically insightful and very moving.
The story unfolds over three hours as two gunmen hold an isolated school under siege, in a wood, on a bitingly cold morning. We follow the action through the perspectives of various students, teachers, police and parents. With groups of students and teachers taking cover in different classrooms and buildings, a snowstorm reducing visibility to arms-length, and with the possibility of a third gunman lurking, police cannot rush in. Instead, they stay in close contact with the teachers and students — while learning as much as possible about who the shooters are and what’s motivated the attack — as they plan a tactical intervention.
The novel tackles a range of serious themes, from racism, islamophobia and radicalization, to mental health, love and courage. It addresses the role of right-wing politicians and the media in fueling intolerance. At times it is very painful to read, especially regarding the plight of refugees. I think some of the images from the novel will stay in my head for a long time.
The kindness of teenagers
This is balanced by the uplifting and beautiful courage of many of the students (and teachers). Anne Enright recently wrote in The Guardian, “Disaster brings out the best in children.” She was writing about how her teenagers have behaved during the pandemic, but I happened across the article while reading Three Hours and the parallels were inescapable.
I did not expect the communality our teenagers began to make at home. The young people started, not to do the dishes, certainly, but to entertain, distract and reassure. They tried, more or less, to make things better for the people around them.… Teenagers get a bad press because, like toddlers, they don’t want to do what they are told. Not enough is said about how kind they are – usually to each other – how unguarded in their affections and hopes. […]Teenagers can be cynical or anxious, they can be wry, but they also have natural belief in a better world, they are wired for ardency. In another kind of global disaster, this is the age group that marches off to war. And it makes me very fierce to think what the world does with this readiness, this idealism, over time.Anne Enright in The Guardian
What is terrifying and heart-breaking is that this very quality of readiness and idealism is abused by the adults who radicalize young people.
I’d warmly recommend this novel to anyone, but it would be particularly good for book groups. And I’d strongly recommend it for teenagers, even though it’s not a YA novel.
My thanks to publisher Penguin, the author and Netgalley for giving me a free copy of this book. All my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased, regardless of how I acquire the book.
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