It’s hard to believe that Sarah Lotz’s debut novel Pompidou Posse was published only six years ago. At the time, it captured my attention because of its striking portrayal of friendship forged in the streets of Paris’s underbelly. Published a year later, Lotz’s Exhibit A was a rollicking read despite its grim topic. It explored the complexity of the taboos, misunderstandings, and legal horrors surrounding rape. It’s quite a feat when a book manages to entertain while giving so much food for thought on a truly difficult issue. Lotz’s third novel, Tooth and Nailed, followed in a similar vein in 2010.
In the meantime, Lotz has also teamed up with her daughter and three other fellow writers to publish a few horror, zombie, and erotica novels under the pen names S.L. Grey, Lily Herne, and Helena S. Paige.
Lotz refers to herself as a writer of pulp fiction, but there is much more to her pithy storytelling. A wise soul, she knows all about meaty prose and how to make you feel strongly about her characters.
The Three, Lotz’s first independent international success, is the culmination of her savvy talent and hard-won experience in which she’s honed her craft. Set around the globe, The Three tells the story of four planes which crash on the same day (not recommended for in-flight reading). There are three survivors, perhaps four; all are children. There is also an ominous message from a passenger who lived long enough to record it on her cell phone. A world-wide media frenzy erupts around the aviation tragedies. The families and friends of victims have to come to terms with the reality of unbearable loss. Those connected to the surviving children have to deal with traumas of an entirely different kind.
The narrative unfolds through a collection of reports of various formats (eyewitness accounts, letters, articles, recording transcripts, interviews, among others) as collected by or conveyed to Elspeth Martins whose life is irrevocably changed by her pursuit of the story behind the story. Paging through the book at first, I thought this might be a tad off-putting, but it is anything but. The technique creates an eerie impression of our everyday reality. This is how most news items reach us: as a confusing mix of snippets from sources such as social media, serious in-depth journalism, conspiracy theories, and simple observations. Facts and truth have a tendency of being hidden behind the smoke-screens of fear and fundamentalism. Gossip adds further spice to the setup.
The reader becomes a voyeur who has access to all the available accounts. Perhaps therein lies the novel’s harshest criticism of our daily practices. As in real life, it is impossible to resist the pull of the incredible mystery at the centre of that fatal day which defies all logic and odds as it unfolds. The mind-blowing ending will leave you reeling. May it not be long before the sequel to The Three lands safely on our bookshelves.
by Sarah Lotz
Hodder & Stoughton, 2014
Review first published in the Cape Times, 25 July 2014, p. 11.
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