Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Review: The Last Minute - Eleanor Updale
Pages: 272 pages, hardback
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads): 9.21am: business as usual on a high street in England.
9.22am: the explosions are heard for miles around, and in the early confusion there is talk of a gas leak, a plane crash, and even terrorism...
The people of Heathwick had been preparing for Christmas unaware that many would die, and the rest would be transformed for ever. Travel with them, second-by-second, through the hopes, fears, love, worries, gossip, cruelty, kindness and trivia that dominated their final minute before tragedy struck.
And in the everyday story of an ordinary street, look for clues to what happened, and why.
My review: 2013 seems to be the year for shocking contemporary novels that come out of nowhere, grab the reader by the lapels and refuse to let go until we're all inanely babbling to everybody within the surrounding area that 'YOU HAVE TO READ THIS!' The Last Minute is one of the first books I read in 2013 and, even though it's taken me a while to get my thoughts straight enough to write a review, I still remember the details like I read it yesterday. This is, simply put, one of the most incredible books I've ever read.
The premise and structure of this novel are both unique and these factors alone are enough to keep interest up from beginning to end but when you add in a fantastic cast of characters, distinctive voices and accomplished writing - you get something that feels really, really special. I'm genuinely excited by this book and I know I'll be recommending it for a long, long time to come. It has absolute crossover appeal and think boys, girls, men and women will love it - it's a tricky one to categorise because I don't think it really fits the conventions of an adult or a YA novel. But, then, I think some of the greatest novels out there appeal to everybody and are difficult to pin down.
One of the strengths of The Last Minute is how much freedom the author gives the reader to make their own decisions about key elements in the story. We start the book knowing there has been a devastating explosion on a high street in the small UK town of Heathwick, situated close to one of the country's main airports (no prizes for guessing how the name came about). Often I think knowing the ending of a book at the beginning can detract from the enjoyment, as there are no stakes, but when we know the outcome is devastating it just makes for an even more gripping read. It was in the back of my mind the whole time I was reading this one that something terrible was going to happen to the characters I was bonding it. I didn't know who would survive the explosion, or what would cause it, I just knew it would happen. I had favourite characters I was rooting for from the outset and Eleanor Updale did an amazing job of building up likable complex characters through hardly any page time. As I said before, the amount of characters involved is huge but I didn't find myself getting confused by who each chapter focused on, simply because the voice of each character and their stories were so distinctive.
Throughout The Last Minute there are major clues about a host of different disasters that could cause the explosion on Heathwick's main street. Some are clearly major incidents but then there are a few more low-key accidents that are subtly hinted at. I loved trying to figure out what was going to cause the explosion and I did find myself horribly aware that there was some major stereotyping going on with the premature conclusions I came too. It's not good but I'm going to hold my hands up and be honest. I do think the author must have been trying to prove a point with this and I'm hoping a lot of readers made the same initial judgements as me - otherwise I just feel bad as a person!
The climax of The Last Minute is staggering. I knew what was coming, I knew the seconds were ticking away but nothing could prepare me for the final pages of the book. The fact I knew the ending before I started and it still shocked me - that's a serious feat right there. After I finished the book I had to sit and process it before I could move on to read anything else. I was in complete shock, there was so much I needed to get straight in my head and I still think about this one all the time. It's a book that will truly linger with you.
I'm going to keep this last bit vague but I will say that there is a great deal of extra content with The Last Minute. I'm a huge, huge fan of extra content and what you can discover about The Last Minute after reading the book is some of the best I've ever seen. Mixed media, online content and additional information in the book is all present and the audience is truly left to draw their own conclusions, which I loved. The amount of work that must have gone into both writing The Last Minute and preparing the campaign for it is staggering and I honestly hope this review has made you tempted to read this wonderful, unique book.