A few Christmases ago, my parents spent a small fortune on books (no surprise) for me as Christmas presents. At the time there was an offer on which was something along the lines of 3 books for £10. Having something along the lines of 8 books, my parents were looking for a third one to make it into a nice round total to complete the offer. Browsing through the available books is what originally attracted me to Sarah Lotz’s The Three. The book itself was published in 2014, and if I am completely honest, I do not remember seeing it advertised anywhere. This aside, the cover immediately intrigued me, and after reading a brief synopsis I knew this would be the book.
If I manage to do anything with this post today, I honestly hope that it will be to encourage you to pick up this book! I worry that for many readers, as it was for my own self, this book will somehow fly under the radar, and you really do not know what you are missing out on! If you haven’t already realised . . . I loved this book! The inside pages of the novel attach high praise indeed, with the author being likened to Shirley Jackson, Stephen King and John Wyndham. Understandably, this made the stakes incredibly high, but thankfully Lotz did not disappoint.
The Three is a truly gripping novel. In this book, the world is stunned into horrified silence as not one, but four planes, all crash with devastating consequences. Whilst the events appear to occur separately across four different continents, they take place almost simultaneously, within one single day. This day becomes infamous across the globe, a day rather aptly named as Black Thursday. The crashes are all brutal, and all uncomprehendable in their devastation. Yet among the wreckage and thousands of deceased, three children survive, almost entirely unhurt. Another adult passenger, Pamela May Donald, dies, but uses the last strength her body possesses to leave a voice message. A message that will cause both mass hysteria, and denial across the globe.
I must take a moment here to express my delight at the physicality of the actual book. Not only is the cover very expressive of the story, but the book is so floppy! As many book lovers will agree, there is nothing worse than a stiff book which is just asking to have the spine cracked and broken into a dismal copy of the original condition. Not this one. I could open it at any page of the book and feel the ease with which the book gave way. Heaven.
The novel itself is framed as non-fiction, a book written by journalist Elspeth Martins, documenting the events, aftermath and theories of the crash. Sarah Lotz cleverly uses the technique of mixed media to enhance the feeling that this is a realistic book. Readers will not just encounter prose, but interviews, internet messages, reports, voice recordings, speeches, articles, website posts, even an Amazon review. Likewise, Lotz does not give sole authority to the voice of the victim’s families. We are given an extensive look at a vast number of characters who would all realistically be involved or affected in various way by these disasters, be that an investigator, ambulance worker, even a priest. I was slightly hesitant when I realised this, as I do not tend to love books written in a diary or similar formats. I needn’t have worried. Whilst quirky, this book feels very organic, and I strongly felt that this slightly risky approach to the book was executed perfectly.
This book has been named as a thriller, and it certainly lives up to this classification. The initial first pages waste no time in giving us a back story or useless information. Instead, we are catapulted head first into the action of the first plane crash, with no time to acclimatise. Just as the crashes themselves would have shocked and horrified everyone around the world, so this book hits us directly with the events. Likewise, just as the world would have eagerly anticipated any news surrounding the events, so does the reader greedily devour every fresh account we are given. In this way, the author creates an affinity of sorts between ourselves and the people within the novel, leaving us with a collective need to know the answers.
The entirety of this book is saturated with creepy undertones. From the very start the surviving children are viewed as extraordinary, unnatural even, and we are desperate to know how they could possibly have survived such a catastrophic event. In many ways, I associated this book very strongly with the Final Destinations films, and the TV series Lost. That is not to say that this book is terrifying, or a horror (although some parts did completely unnerve me), but rather that it produces an extremely unsettling feeling that you just cannot definitively pin down. Events that happen after the crashes, which I will not spoil for anyone, all seem to foreshadow a sense of doom, another cataclysmic event which we can sense approaching but are helpless to stop or efficiently prefare for. The children themselves are figures shrouded in mystery and intrigue, and I quite literally could not put this book down because of my ever mounting desire to understand. Quite cleverly, we are not given any accounts, narrative or speech from the children themselves. The author separates them from the reader, heightening the alienation and uneasiness we feel towards them.
Despite the lack of direct information from the young survivors, we are given access to the thoughts and feelings of the family members. I found this very interesting, and at times extremely poignant, as it is often very easy to overlook the effects these events can have on those who are left behind. Although the framing device of this as a nonfiction book does mean that technically everything we are being told are mostly recollections or memories, it all still feels very raw. The plot feels very linear, and does not become confusing amidst the vast array of voices. In fact, the author is skilled at switching instantaneously between voices and different characters, be that a homosexual failed actor, or a religious nut who believes the apocalypse is approaching.
On the subject of that religious enthusiast (to put it lightly), I loved the way the book examines the consequences which can spread from the ideas surrounding one, or several, individuals. It is not a spoiler to tell you that following the crash, a certain group of religious followers decide that the four surviving children are the four horsemen from the Bible, foretelling Judgement Day. It was fascinating to think how completely immersed some people can become by their religion, but also how quickly people are capable of ‘converting’, when they live in fear of the unknown. This side plot, and various other conspiracy theories surrounding the children, increases the unease we feel towards them. Rationally, we know how insane the idea that the children are anti-Christ’s, or harbingers of death and destruction really is. And yet we find ourselves analysing every aspect of them, constantly wondering, ‘what if?’ That, perhaps, is the greatest aspect of this book.
Throughout the entirety of my reading experience, I felt wholly left in the dark about which direction the author could potentially take the story, and I really enjoyed this. Would it be supernatural, religious, extraterrestrial or purely coincidence? I changed my mind multiple times about what the outcome would be, and that made the experience so much more engaging. I also greatly appreciated the fact that the author did not shy away from the more difficult subjects to discuss, the initial gruesome scenes from the crashes being just one example.
Upon finishing this book, I very nearly threw it at my bedroom wall. That is not to say that this was a bad book, or that the ending was poor. I actually enjoyed the ending, and think that considering the build up within the book, it was probably very fitting. Whilst we gain some answers towards the end regarding the event, both why and how it happened, the novel concludes in an open ended way which I could definitely see infuriating many people. I do not, however, think this is a bad thing. I view it as more of a reflection of how involved you are made to feel during this reading process. Additionally, I think if the ending had been a cut off, closed affair, it would have gone against the very nature of the book, and could have potentially disappointed many people if it took a certain direction. As it is, the ending encapsulated and maintained the ideas and the unknown which enshrouds the children.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is incredibly fast paced, and a real page turner, without the quality of the writing being affected. In fact, I think that Sarah Lotz’s has shown herself to be a very accomplished writer, and I can only admire her for what I am certain must have been hours of hardwork plotting and piecing the novel together into one coherent unit. Whilst this book focuses more on the idea of terror and the unknown, rather than the bloody and gruesome realities of horror, there are places which did inspire a chill, and did intrude uninvited upon my thoughts when night came. For a debut, I can only salute Lotz’s efforts, and await eagerly to read her second novel, The Fourth.
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton (part of the Hachette UK company)