This month’s challenge was another that I thought would be easy, but actually proved quite tough – to read a book with a timepiece on the cover. Firstly, because my search ended up having to be spread over two library visits, due to not-getting-there-early-enough-the-first-time, but also because I simply wasn’t able to find anything… Strange, right? Disregarding the fact that a “timepiece” could be a whole load of different things, aren’t clocks a common theme for book covers? I’m sure I’ve seen a hundred of them before. But of course they always elude me when I’m searching for them specifically. Anyway, this is what I eventually ended up checking out:
THE LAST MINUTE
One minute life in Heathwick was completely normal, with the exception of some extremely inconvenient roadworks causing a massive traffic jam on the main road; the next minute, it was… not. A massive explosion kills sixty-five people, and injures dozens more, and speculation as to its origins run rampant. This book is a countdown, second by second, of the lives of the people in Heathwick in the minute leading up to the explosion, showing us snapshots of a few (or, in many cases the last) seconds of their lives.
There are a lot of people in this book: A young mother expecting her second child; a worker in a café; a politician who’s cheating on his wife; a reluctant teacher supervising a school trip… and so on. Many of them don’t really stand out all that much – and in fact, I can’t even remember a lot of their names – but there were a couple that I enjoyed reading about. In particular, I liked Deanna and Paul, the young lovers, as well as the retired actress Lotte. I also eventually grew quite fond of Matey – a homeless man who likes to tell stories – and I would’ve liked to have heard the punchline of his (very long) joke.
The huge cast of characters (and the second-by-second format) also provide the book’s greatest flaw, though: It’s quite difficult to follow everything that’s going on. This many different (mostly unrelated) storylines are a lot to keep track of, and the confusion isn’t helped by the fact that the story is divided up by time, rather than by plotline, so we jump between different characters rapidly, often switching scenes mid-sentence…
On the other hand, this format really increased the dramatic tension. It didn’t help me to connect with any of the characters, but it really emphasised how quickly time was running out for them. Individually, none of the storylines were all that interesting, and the book probably would’ve been quite boring if it had followed each character up to the explosion, and then gone back and started again with someone else. Instead, what this book delivers is a really great sense of the town itself as a character, with its various different parts all contributing to a bigger whole.
One last note: I don’t know if this is Updale’s doing or her publisher’s (David Fickling Books), but the maps in this book are genius. There’s one at the beginning that shows the layout of Heathwick High Street, which isn’t that extraordinary, but it’s shown again at the end of the book, with little person-shaped markers for everyone who died… It’s pretty harrowing.
[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]