Three Hours – Rosamund Lupton
Rosamund Lupton is a gifted author that masterfully develops plots where great characters portray human emotions and relationships in scenarios that test what it really means to love and hate, to be fearful and brave, and how selfless, protective and frightened people act in times of extreme danger.
Three Hours is the story of a school campus being held hostage by a gunman with murderous intent. Unfortunately, a scenario that has played out for real in our society with shocking news coverage. Rosamund draws wonderful characters that give us a glimpse of possible motivations and actions beneath the headlines.
The school is a campus of multiple buildings located in woodlands on the Somerset coast and includes a junior school, a senior school, pottery building and a theatre. It has continued to grow from the 1920s adding new to old and now provides education to 14 years of student needs. Several characters occupy each of the buildings and their stories are told with compelling fascination when threat and fear hang over their every move. The novel explores how different people react, some stepping forward in moments of courage and those that don’t.
The attacks start with a small explosion, and Rafi, a young refugee from Aleppo knows from experience exactly what it was. He informs the headmaster, Matthew Marr, and rushes to the junior school to evacuate the children and his younger brother, Basi. For many others, it began when the headmaster was shot in the head and foot. Dragged into the library by Hannah (Rafi’s girlfriend) and her fellow student, Mr Marr is incapacitated but fears what is happening in his school. As for the gunman:
“Everyone would realize, if they hadn’t already feared it, if they were a bit slow on the uptake, that their lives and stories weren’t their own; and all the different stories he’d set in motion would play out at the same time, the simultaneity generated by him.”
As the reports circulate using mobile phones, other teachers battle the fear and nerves to keep the children safe, including Daphne Epelsteiner, the 55 years old drama teacher, Neil Forbright the deputy head and Beth Alton, a worried parent.
The sense of concealed menace hangs like a dense fog over the school never knowing if the killer is going to step out of the mist and shoot someone. The staff try to occupy the children without conveying fear but their anxiety is palpable. Worse still there’s more than one gunman. Over three hours from 9:15 am to 12:15 pm the lives of the school’s staff, pupils and parents will change forever.
We often wonder what psychological impact events such as school shootings or war-torn regions such as Aleppo have on those that survive. Rafi was a wonderful character, expertly drawn and demonstrated the selfless love he had for his brother, Hannah and others. I loved the following quote from Rafi as he talks to Hannah, and it seems to resonate with multiple disorders from depression to PTSD.
“ ‘I think that’s what mental illness is,’ he said. ‘I think it takes away the choice. You’re stuck being someone who isn’t even really you. And you should know that the not-really-me has PTSD and I’m genuinely weird in a psychotic way.”
This is an excellent book that tackles a difficult and sensitive subject with careful control. The ending … well ?! I would highly recommend this book and I’d like to thank Penguin Books for providing me with an ARC copy in return for an honest review.