Rosamund Lupton’s novel ‘Three Hours’ was chosen for this year’s Big Town Read. Always a highlight of the festival, Big Town Read is now in its ninth year. On Sunday October 3, Rosamund Lupton was in Marlborough Town Hall to speak about her novel and to answer questions from the audience, many of whom are members of book groups who have already read and discussed the novel.
‘Three Hours’ is a tense read. Set in an isolated and liberal school in rural Somerset the action is played out over three hours. In the first paragraph the headmaster is seriously wounded and two armed gunmen prowl the school grounds in a snow storm. However, this is not a novel about an American High School style shooting and carnage.
Rosamund Lupton told the audiences, “When I started writing the novel I was struck by the amount of hate speech about – the murder of Jo Cox, attitudes to refugees and the little boy refugee washed up on the beach in Greece. I thought the novel was going to be about hate but it was community, courage and love that propelled me.”
Lupton wants readers to understand the event from multiple points of view, nine in all: the headmaster and various teachers, pupils trapped in several different locations, the police, the two refugee boys who are pupils at the school and who are the only ones who know from experience that there are people you can’t always trust who seem trustworthy.
It is no accident that the drama group in the novel are studying ‘Macbeth’ as Lupton is interested in how someone can become radicalised just as Macbeth is by the witches. “The courage and evil in the play mirror what’s happening in the school,” explained Lupton.
The novel opens with a moment of stillness, and for everyone who is trapped inside the school time runs agonisingly slow. For the police time is running out. There is a dreamlike quality as the headmaster drifts in and out of consciousness and the snow falling muffles sounds and covers tracks. Lupton says, “Outside mirrors inside. Outside doesn’t feel liberating. It feels claustrophobic.”
Lupton shows how easy it is for someone who is vulnerable, friendless and insecure to become radicalised. She also explores the guilt felt by the parent of the character who has been radicalised. “Guilt and blame is not always justified. In modern society we don’t know what’s going on with our kids. It’s much harder than it used to be. The far right have taken advice from Islamic state about how to recruit children.”
“Only love can save us,” says Lupton. “The two characters Hannah and Rafi are buoyed up by love. The teachers show love within the community and take huge risks. I wanted to celebrate that.”
“Love is the most powerful thing there is,” the headmaster tells Hannah in the novel, “the only thing that really matters.”
It is this emphasis on love and community which became so important during lockdown that Lupton believes has helped the novel’s appeal. Certainly those present in Marlborough Town Hall would agree with her.