I found Rosamund Lupton in Heathrow airport during a long layover, and devoured her debut novel Sister before I boarded the plane. Since then I have anxiously waited for her novels to travel across the pond; but Three Hours was too long to wait. I still have not seen it in stores here but I found it through the Book Depository and escaped into its world, reading through it in one day. I love it when a book captures me; it’s been a while since a story has been so compelling.
Three Hours reminded me of the first of Ann Patchett’s novels, Bel Canto, with its theme of hostages, terror, lives intersecting and morphing into positive and negative influences, with a well constructed plot leading to surprises at the end. Lupton updates her characters to students in a liberal British school, unknowingly infiltrated by a psychopath who has connected with a hate filled group. Students tweet and send messages through all the current social media and learn how to make bombs and adapt machine guns on the internet; they are more adept than their teachers and parents, of course. Two Syrian refugees, one who proves to be a hero, provide the fulcrum as the story unravels through three hours of terror in the school.
So much happens, the three hours could have been weeks, as the reader watches students, teachers, parents, and the attackers through the lens of innocence and bias. Macbeth plays a pivotal role on the story, and as someone who has read and taught the play, I was impressed by how Lupton integrates Shakespeare’s universal themes into today’s world. As their fellow students are held hostage in the library, barricaded by books, and in a small pottery shed, making clay animals, the seniors rehearse the play in the seemingly foolproof theater. The play’s murders and the infamous witches are suddenly relevant to the horror around them, and Birnam Wood will never be the same.
A fast paced thriller with not so subtle implications for today’s world, Three Hours is another of Lupton’s amazing rides.