The Three by Sarah Lotz: A disturbing thought-provoking thriller

There is so much positive buzz around this “debut” from Sarah Lotz who describes herself as a “genre-crossing pulp-fiction” writer based in South Africa that it’s pretty hard to miss. 

So I got this book through the Galley ARC and pretty much dived into it – sucked in by the wonderfully engaging tale written very proficiently, switching between different voices, bending genres and generally cranking up that lever of tension and escalating fear levels. Now it is the first time I’m reading a tale being presented in such a manner. Like a vantage point or Rashomon movie, where the threads slowly unspool from different POVs – Email exchanges, Geek Forum discussions, Tape recordings, Skype interviews and social media shout-outs. Very clever writing device and trust me, it really works. Because Sarah expertly weaves in these narratives to build up that patina of fear that seeps in unnoticed as we read on.

It’s a tough book to review without being “spoilery” – The book is actually a collection of interviews and info-snippets – witness testimonies as collected by a writer Elspeth Martin – a journalist of sorts who is collecting material for her book on “Black Friday” – a fateful day that saw the simultaneous air crashes of four airplanes in Japan, South Africa, US and Britain. And all the cataclysmic series of events that are triggered off by the same. Three kids miraculously survive these horrific accidents while no one else has escaped alive – and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the crash only deepens the mistrust and tension. Religious groups use this to build an entire Christian propaganda around the End of World and anoint these survivors – dubbed 
The Three – as the legendary horsemen who precipitate the arrival of the apocalypse or the Anti-Christ and thus see the annihilation of the whole world. Except for the faithful. 

Now I usually am not a fan of this type of writing. There is no one consistent character I can hitch my wagon to – and watch the proceedings unfurl. (Call me spoilt like that) But while initially I was a little annoyed, the writing was so original in terms of getting the voices right for so many different types of people: Japanese Internet-trawlers and their sign-lingos, American soldiers posted in far-out desolate posts, Alcoholics, maniacs with psychosis, God-fearing Christians, rabble-rousing pastors waiting for the Rapture and lots lots more – there was no way I could put this down. Before I realized I was halfway through the book and then I realized my anticipations of a classic horror book with creeping doorways, dark and scary creatures or ghosts from the attic are pretty misplaced. This is more of a psychological horror – the deep-seated fear of the unknown that really grabs you by the neck as the whole world goes into a frenzy whipped up by unsocial elements looking to fulfill their own ulterior motives. It’s amazing how with some really clever writing, Sarah sweeps these events into a global pandemonium of fear and uncertainty. What is more creepy? That these three kids who actually survived horrific air-crashes might be three biblical Horsemen who signal the End of the World is near or power & money hungry elements possessed by mad rousing ambitions are whipping up the world into a frenzy over such premises? It’s scary how real and plausible the situations are today. And how scarily fast the fear-mongers are able to ensnare people into their own whirlpools of anxiety and fear.

The whole theme of the book is very real, very scary and very thought-provoking. A deeply unsettling novel that’s intelligent and beautifully crafted, by flitting through scores of unreliable narrators, Sarah manages to prolong that feeling of tension for a while with the fear of some impending disaster looming large over every page. And all the time at the back of your mind, you feel you’re watching the events through the lens muddled by Elspeth (the writer who collates all these narratives, remember?) who’s got her own interpretations into the play of events. This isn’t your edge-of-the-seat nail-biting tense thriller. The fear is of a baser version. One that creeps up unnoticed and hooks its talons deep into your mind and rattles it. Probably going to be one of 2014’s revelatory books.


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