Book review: The Three by Sarah Lotz

 

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The Independent Culture

Every year or two, there comes along a book which utilises the gears and guts of genre fiction but which has “mainstream bestseller” written through it like a stick of seaside rock. Last year, the honour went to Lauren Beukes’ tale of a time-travelling serial killer, The Shining Girls. For 2014, I’d put money on The Three by Sarah Lotz occupying the slot.

Coincidentally, Lotz, like Beukes, is South African. She has a finely tuned ear for international cultures though, and creditably tells the story of The Three from the direct words of a cast of ... if not thousands, then certainly enough to make the writer of a standard narrative break out in hives.

The entire book purports to be the notes of journalist Elspeth Martins for a non-fiction book picking over the events of 12 January, 2012 – a date as ingrained in the consciousness of those who live in Lotz’s fictional world as 9/11 is in ours.

It’s incredibly difficult to write a book in this way and maintain a proper dramatic narrative, as well as making the interviews, newspaper articles, extracts of reports and transcribed notes feel genuine. Lotz manages it with aplomb and, in doing so, creates what feels like an eerily convincing dispatch from the heart of an apocalypse that you wonder how you missed.

Summer blockbuster perhaps, but those of a nervous disposition might want to consider carefully whether they want to take The Three on a foreign beach holiday – at its heart is the worst air disaster ever when, on the fateful date above, four passenger planes crash almost simultaneously. All crew and passengers die, save for one child on all but one of the flights – a trio of similarly-aged, unconnected children who become known in the media and across the world as The Three.

The beauty of this book is that Lotz  mixes the creepy first-person reports of those closest to The Three with the almost inevitable international hysteria which begins in a small fundamentalist Christian church in the US Bible Belt and threatens to engulf the world. But are The Three the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or the innocent victims of a media feeding frenzy? And if that is apocalypse riding over the hill, is it the final judgement of God or have we merely brought it on ourselves?

Lotz keeps things moving with a deft ambiguity and plenty of moments of heart-stopping terror. It’s a confident, assured  and thought-provoking novel that deserves as wide an audience as possible.

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