Review: The Three

Sarah Lotz The Three Title: The Three
Author: Sarah Lotz
Publisher: Hodder
Year originally published: 2014

I’d pegged The Three as my post-finals reward months ago. The concept sounded fantastic, and the narrative of four planes being brought down on one day eerily similar to the tragic news of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane. I couldn’t stop tweeting about how excited I was after reading the Kindle excerpt. Suffice to say that my expectations were riding extremely high indeed.

Let’s start with the aesthetics. I am an art historian, after all – my sole academic purpose over the past four years has been to judge books by their covers. Or paintings…by their canvases. Whatever. The UK version of the cover is great. Dark and slightly waxy to the touch, it features a plane hovering ominously over four tally marks. Three of the four are bloodred, further accentuated with photographs of three young children in each (the eponymous Three), while the fourth is dark. Not to spoil, but I do love a cover that hints at the narrative within. Four planes have crashed almost simultaneously on 12 January 2012, a date that comes to be known as Black Thursday, etched into the minds of the men and women who inhabit this world just as 9/11 is seared into ours. Yet, inexplicably, three children survive – one from a flight that crashes in the Aokigahara suicide forest in Japan, one from a plane swallowed up by the Florida Everglades, and one who has clung to shrapnel off the coast of Portugal. A media frenzy quickly develops, labelling the children as ‘The Three’.

The form of the novel follows a structure similar to Max Brooks’ World War Z. That is, conventional first person narrative comes together with blog posts, transcribed Dictaphone recordings and Skype interviews, instant messages and forum posts. This mixture of reports meshes together to form Lotz’s book within a book, a novel published by fictional journalist Elspeth Martins, entitled From Crash to Conspiracy. The collated reports are drawn from global sources (the planes having crashed in Europe, America, Africa and Asia) and I think Lotz carries off the Babel-like cacophony of international voices extraordinarily well. Her knack for the South African voice in accounts peppered with Afrikaans discloses her own nationality, but the Japanese elements seem equally authentic, with reference to the hikikomori phenomenon, the ‘2chan’ forum and the Aokigahara forest, the latter which I’d only ever seen before in a video on Vice. It’s clear that Lotz has put a lot of research into this novel, which is fantastic for me as a reader.

Although the narrative would ostensibly seem to focus on the enigma and possible horror surrounding the child survivors, I think it does more to highlight the repugnance of humanity. In the wake of the crashes, conspiracy theorists and fundamental Christian groups seize on the event as a way of manipulating the public for their own political ends. Meanwhile, Elspeth Martins herself is revealed to be an unreliable source, accused of cherry-picking the most sensational quotes and anecdotes from her sources when constructing her novel, which calls the credibility of the accounts themselves into question. Indeed, the questions at the heart of this story are never really fully answered, and throughout the novel I found myself, like the characters, constantly speculating as to whether the source of Black Thursday and its child survivors was supernatural or the result of human delusions and paranoia. The conclusions we are brought to at the novel’s close, however, are deeply chilling – enough to disturb my dreams the night I finished the book.

My verdict: 4.5/5 This book falls just short of five stars for me because given that I had been building this book up during my literature-starved months of finals revision, it was inevitable that it couldn’t quite live up to the standards I’d imposed on it. And yet the standards it did reach were incredibly high. Lotz has expertly woven a chorus of voices together to form a tapestry that reflects on the state of humanity in the 21st century, from its dependence on the Internet as a means of communication to the fame-hungry who employ tragic events as a means to grabbing their fifteen minutes. I thoroughly enjoyed this book – a cluster of fictional catastrophes and ensuing paranoia was just the ticket for post-examination escapism. One word of warning: do not take this book on a plane!


The Post-Exams TBR List

May 31st. If I had an old-school wall calendar, that date would be circled in bright red felt tip. Sadly, it features only as a slightly feeble entry in my Google Calendar. Not quite so evocative. May 31st, since you ask (you didn’t, but never mind) will be my first full day of freedom from everything University related – lectures, supervisions, seminars, essays, my dissertation, and exams. I fully intend to spend it encased in a social media-free bubble, reading to my heart’s content. May 30th is my last examination date, but I presume I’ll either be too passed out from mental exhaustion or from post-exam bubbles (as it’s the tradition at Cambridge to mercilessly spray finalists after the last exam with cheap bottles of cava) to do anything remotely resembling reading.

Recreational reading doesn’t look to be on the cards at all, in fact, until that hallowed date. Yes, I started this blog at a silly time…

Without further ado, I wanted to share the five books that I’m most eagerly anticipating reading once I’m free.

1) The Three (Sarah Lotz)
So first up, we have The Three. I’ve been excited about this ever since I saw Hodder’s Twitter posts announcing it a few months ago, but then a couple of days ago they released a sampler of the novel as a free Kindle ebook via Amazon. I’m now approximately one thousand times more ramped up about The Three than previously, and I’m almost glad that I have revision and exams to plug the gap between now and the release date on May 22nd. The premise is that four planes crash more or less simultaneously around the world, but three children miraculously survive, seemingly unscathed. The free sampler doesn’t confirm exactly what role these children are going to play, but my guess is that they’re extremely dangerous. And creepy. Promising stuff.

2) Dust (Hugh Howey)
So I said that I probably won’t have time to do any fun reading in this peak finals period. But let’s be honest here. I bought Shift, the second instalment of the Wool trilogy, in a moment of weakness at Forbidden Planet last week, and I really doubt I’ll get through the next month without reading it during my breaks. I’ve written about how much I enjoyed Wool, which I devoured in one day flat. So I’m really looking forward to cracking open Dust and escaping from thoughts about results (ack) into a subterranean world racked by poisoned air and terrible secrets.

3) On Beauty (Zadie Smith)
I found a hardback copy of On Beauty in the secondhand section of Heffers in Cambridge last term. It was like discovering buried treasure. On Beauty is the second hardback that’s been on my TBR list that I’ve picked up there for £2, the first being Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World. I like how Smith often roots her narratives in northwest London, particularly the borough of Brent, where I’ve grown up, and I loved reading White Teeth, so I have high expectations regarding On Beauty!

4) The Sign of Four (Arthur Conan Doyle)
I finally started reading the Sherlock Holmes series in Michaelmas term. I’m a late bloomer, I know. I think I read The Hound of the Baskervilles in primary school, but it’s all a bit hazy now. Anyway. The Study In Scarlet was not at all what I expected, having followed the slick Sherlock BBC adaptation and the Sherlock Holmes Robert Downey Jr. movies religiously. Slick and fast-paced it may not be, but I enjoyed what I read, particularly the Mormon side plot. I’ve heard that The Sign of Four is even better than its predecessor. *Rubs hands gleefully*

5) Sandman Volume V: A Game of You (Neil Gaiman)
I love the Sandman series, and I reckon I’ve been pretty restrained in reading them really. Let’s compare: I read the entirety of The Walking Dead (published so far, that is) in the space of about a week, but it was like binge-eating. Albeit binge-eating zombies, as opposed to eating a nice pack of Doritos too quickly. Anyway, with Sandman I’ve been buying the series one volume at a time and allowing myself one day to savour each, which always feels so much more virtuous.

Other books currently vying for attention on my gigantic TBR list: The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway), The Girl With All The Gifts (M.R. Carey), Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Robin Sloan), It (Stephen King), Lexicon (Max Barry).

May 31st cannot come soon enough.

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