(David Fickling Books)
9.21am: it is business as usual on the high Street in Heathwick, a typical English town. 9.22am: the high street is torn apart by several successive explosions.
But what happened in that last minute? What circumstances have resulted in the tragedy that unfolds at 9.22am? Was is a gas leak, a plane crash, terrorism? Readers are invited to follow the last moments of those involved, sharing their hopes and worries, and to look out for clues as to what really happened, and why.
The Last Minute is not like anything you will have read before, for its concept is quite unique. Eleanor Updale demonstrates a tour de force in writing with this tale. Sixty short chapters describe the last moments of the victims, one second at a time. It is hard to imagine how difficult it must be to write such a book, as the elaborateness of the plot is quite exceptional. However, this also makes for quite complex reading and for this reason, The Last Minute is a book better suited to the more accomplished reader. The format sets a very fast pace, and readers feel compelled to read on. Undoubtedly readers will find themselves with favourite stories and characters, and characters with whom they will feel very little connection and feel little sympathy for.
Whatever their feelings about the characters, The Last Minute is one of these books that does make readers think, a lot. The reader, aware from the start that most of the characters are going to die, is given an interesting perspective on their behaviour – small-mindedness, prejudice but also hopes and aspirations. It is excruciating to a certain extent, and does really remind readers of one’s mortality, and how all some things (such as material things) in the end, matter very little. But there is also a very strong message about our constant neurosis about terrorism, and how it makes us make arbitrary judgements about people because of their appearance – the girl with the baklava, the boy in the plane, the man buying batteries at the newsagents – all arise suspicion because of their demeanour, behaviour or colour of their skin. It would be interesting also to see if readers do come to the right conclusions regarding the perpetrators.
For those readers keen to know more, there an extraordinary amount of extra material of Eleanor Updale’s website.
The Last Minute is an engaging and pacy read which cannot leave readers indifferent. It is also an outstanding piece of writing from Eleanor Updale.
My only criticism I have is aimed at the cove, which I don’t find particularly user-friendly for the intended audience.
Source: review copy from publisher