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 evengripping 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 fewlow 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. It was a very interesting premise but not interesting in its execution There were too many characters which meant that there was no character development and no thoughtful observations on said characters and circumstances I found that I would rather be knitting a teapot cosy in the desert The language was very simple, perhaps it was meant for children but even then, i would hope foreloquent phrasing Yet I persisted, not wanting to visit the desert on a 48 degree day, wanting, needing, redemption at the end Naturally I knew that there was going to be a devastating explosion by one orof the obvious sources that were unsubtly alluded to, but i still hoped forinsight, any insight None came Predictability was rampant Where are those knitting needles The end. I thought this was a brilliant way to structure a story about a disaster By starting at the end and counting down second by second we always know what is going to happen, but we get to know the victims this really makes you stop and consider the crushing loss of loved ones The fact that the story is set in a typical high street and people are going about everyday activities brings home to us how precious life is and how fragile it can be how decisions, minor incidents, seemingly unrelated incidents, financial and personal circumstances can fatefully conspire The story gave us insights, for example, the young boy who, usually absorbed in how bad his life is, sees his mother at a distance, recognises how tired she is and starts to count his money to buy her a present The story is full of the split second thoughts each person can have and moves the story from a typical Hollywood disaster to a reality we ve all sadly come to expect I loved the website links, but left the story wanting to knowabout the survivors and relatives of the victims, plus the plane incident I wonder if there will be a some years later report I read this in one sitting If I didn t, I would have been totally lost when Matey finally reached the punch line of his joke.The format and idea are very interesting, and unlike any other book I have ever read Based off of a real event or should I say, tragic disaster , the whole book only covers the time span of one minute At first it was hard to keep the characters straight, but Updale s repetition of details that is seemingly redundant is actually very helpful to remember whose storyline we are visiting.So, one bone I would like to pick this book is described as a whodunnit But, after I had feverishly collected details in my mind and thought over motivations and possible suspects, I was actually a bit disappointed in the end And then, remembering that it was a real event andthan 60 real people actually died, I was sad You get to know some of the characters pretty well, and then Boom.A good read with a somber undertone.Recommended for readers 12 Mini review originally posted on Nightjar s Jar of Books.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 , 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 caf 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. I absolutely loved the way The Last Minute is written, it was so completely different to anything I ve ever read before and I found it practically impossible to put the book down It reminded me of the TV series 24 except instead of each episode covering an hour long time period each chapter of the story covers one second of the last minute before an explosion rocks the sleep village high street of Heathwick You know from the prologue that something terrible is going to happen and you re left trying to piece everything together and figure out what causes the disaster.I found myself constantly asking myself questions as I was reading Is that person a terrorist or are they just an innocent person minding their own business Why has that white van just been abandoned in the middle of the high street Why are drivers such morons when there are roadworks Why is that plane passenger refusing to turn off their mobile phone Will the beggar get to the punchline of his joke before the explosion happens Who is going to survive I m not going to answer those questions for you here but if you read the book you ll find out all of that and so much .I will say that it took me a couple of chapters to get into the swing of reading the story, you are introduced to a huge number of characters and it took a little while to get everyone straight in my head Some characters have larger roles than others but it doesn t take too long to get a feel for who they all are What I liked most was that everyone was so normal, they are everyday people who are just going about their day to day lives with no idea of what is about to happen to them They have the same problems, thoughts, fears and dreams as the rest of us and although you don t have time to get to know them very well you do become surprisingly invested in their lives In a way it was actually quite scary to think about how normal everything seemed until the explosion hits, very few people even noticed anything suspicious going on around them and you re watching from the sidelines with baited breath just trying to put all of the clues together.The Last Minute is an edge of your seat read, the pacing is fast and you know that with every chapter that passes you re a second closer to disaster I devoured this book very quickly and I m definitely looking forward to readingfrom Eleanor Updale in the future For anyone who has read the book already you really should make sure you checkout the extra information on Eleanor Updale s website She has created all kinds of newspaper clippings and even an inquiry report to give youinformation on exactly what caused the explosion and what happened in the aftermath Whatever you do don t look at those extras before you ve read the book though it would completely spoil the story for you if you did The Last Minute is, at times, a hard book to read It tells the story of a quiet high street and its inhabitants going about their everyday lives, one minute before a huge explosion changes everything Each chapter is one second of that minute, as the countdown nears its grisly end It s sad and is made that much worse because we get to know everyone I loved how The Last Minute was written, kind of like the TV show 24 but working in seconds rather than hours A lot happened in those seconds which obviously couldn t have really happened in such a short pinch of time, but I like the idea and the format anyway I was apprehensive to get to the end because I knew what was coming right from the beginning This book shows how one minute can change everything, and how every action can have a consequence and can then set off a chain of disastrous events Even though the book is quite short and only covers one minute, Eleanor Updale wrote in such a way that by the end I felt like I knew every single person at that high street The inclusion of maps and newspaper articles adds an extra touch of realism, and it soon becomes apparent that a tragedy like this could happen anywhere.The Last Minute is a quick read I read it all in one sitting but it isn t by any means an easy one It s poignant and sad, and made me want to appreciate every minute of my life It s the first of Eleanor Updale s books I ve read, though I m sure it won t be my last She s certainly caught my attention with this one Here s the pitch ExplosionThat s The Last Minute, hollywood y and hooky in its conceit and unbearably tense in its delivery This is 24 gone macro gone YA sixty seconds, a cast of a hundred plus, and a town about to face its darkest hour See, I can t even precis it with going all movie voice It s written by Eleanor Updale, classy author of the Montncy books, and god it s good Written back to front as it were, with the resolution of the minute staring you right in the face, it s impossible to read this book calmly Even the chapter headings don t help each second goes by with a simple Tick, Tock, and it s just edge of your seat territory All the way You start to connect the dots and then, just as you think you do, Updale throws a curveball in your way I loved this Whilst the book itself was a healthy four almost five star rating for me I struggled to keep track of what was happening to whom at points an issue for me occasionally with novels of a massive cast , what pulls it to a glorious five stars is the accompanying material Can I tell you how much I love this sort of thing If you go to this website you can see the official enquiry into the incident and several other pieces of supporting material This is brilliant just don t do it until after you finished the book because spoilers Am Business As Usual On A High Street In Englandam The Explosions Are Heard For Miles Around, And In The Early Confusion There Is Talk Of A Gas Leak, A Plane Crash, And Even TerrorismThe 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 StruckAnd In The Everyday Story Of An Ordinary Street, Look For Clues To What Happened, And Why Initially, I really liked the premise of this novel Written in real time , Updale s tale explores the 60 seconds leading up to an explosion that devastates a local high street claiming 65 lives It serves to highlight both the significance and the smallness of every day humanity However, after a while the second by second stories of these victims become tedious, even banal and the tragedy almost descends into bathos The coincidences that Updale lines up become increasingly melo dramatic and make the story unconvincing I suppose this is a consequence of trying to keep the reader hooked while she recounts the tedious tasks her characters tackle in the run up to the event.For example, one character s story sees him impeded by bad luck on his way to a job interview he struggles to tie a shoe lace, tears his trousers, falls in dog poop and smears mud on his face in a series of histrionic mini catastrophes This feels unlikely and a deliberate device to give the reader something interesting to cling to, but it kind of ruins the whole point of exploring the ordinariness of people milling about, living their lives.Nonetheless, this is an interesting, quick read that kept me engaged for a while.
Eleanor Updale studied history at St Anne s College, Oxford, before becoming a producer of TV and radio current affairs programmes for the BBC Her first children s novel, Montncy, won the Silver Smarties Prize and the Medway Book Award.
- 272 pages
- The Last Minute
- Eleanor Updale
- 23 November 2019 Eleanor Updale