Author Rosamund Lupton reclines on a sofa. Image: Vicki Knights

Image: Vicki Knights

Talk about starting your literary career as you mean to go on: though Rosamund Lupton didn’t finish her first novel until 2010 – almost 25 years after graduating from Cambridge University and after years of working as a screenwriter ­– the result, Sister, wasn’t just a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller but the fastest-selling debut of 2010 by a British author.

Each of Lupton’s three subsequent novels – Afterwards, The Quality of Silence and her latest, Three Hours, a captivating story of the timespan in which a Somerset school is gripped by the fear of gun violence during a blizzard – have all similarly enjoyed Sunday Times bestseller status, not to mention critical acclaim and notable book club picks.

To celebrate the paperback release of Three Hours, we asked Lupton to pick five books that held her rapt recently. Here, she waxes enthusiastically about Kate Atkinson, Hallie Rubenhold’s feminist retelling of Jack the Ripper’s atrocities, and more.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015)

A God in Ruins follows the life of Teddy Todd, a bomber pilot and a poet, beloved brother and a father, through the travails of the 20th Century. I first encountered Teddy in Atkinson’s previous novel Life After Life, and there’s something joyous when a wonderful character in one novel, which I’d thought was a standalone, reappears in a second. This novel is described by Atkinson as a companion piece to Life after Life rather than a sequel, and it is a skilful, playful, forensically researched and beautifully written book, playing brilliantly with time. I found the explorations of grief, lost lives and post-war austerity exceptionally evocative.

Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann (1932)

This story follows 17-year-old Olivia Curtis preparing for her first dance, alongside her older, more confident sister. Written in the 1930s, it could be dismissed as an exquisite period piece – there are dance cards and silk dresses – but the characters are so nuanced and the psychology of them so astute that it still feels relevant. The novel perfectly captures an adolescent on the cusp of adulthood, but for me Lehmann’s genius is her descriptions of the physical world, which are astonishingly vivid. This book is the prequel to a novel I read many years ago, The Weather in the Streets, and makes this story all the more poignant.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller (2019)

This non-fiction book is about a woman who for a long time was referred to as Emily Doe, while her assailant’s name became famous. Her book reclaims her identity and her story:

“My name is Chanel.
I am a victim, I have no qualms with this word, only with the idea that is all that I am. However, I am not Brock Turner’s victim. I am not his anything. I do not belong to him.”

As a piece of victim advocacy it is strikingly powerful, but Chanel Miller is also a talented and deeply engaging writer. The picture she gives to the reader is of a young woman who is loving, honest, angry, funny and wise.

Summerwater by Sarah Moss (2020)

Summerwater is set in a Scottish cabin park on the banks of a loch, and follows different occupants from dawn until darkness, after days of unrelenting rain. A woman goes running, escaping more than the claustrophobic cabin; a teenage boy takes a kayak out onto the loch; a retired man reminisces. It is wonderfully immersive, with Moss enabling the reader to inhabit each of the character’s thoughts as much as they do the landscape. The novel also gives a microcosm of contemporary Britain. It is both a brutal and a delicately beautiful book.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold (2019)

I was given this book, subtitled The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, by an editor, and wasn’t sure if I’d read it. I don’t usually read historical non-fiction and never true crime. But within pages I was totally immersed, and have since pressed this book into the hands of many friends. The book is a historical detective story which instead of unmasking the identity of the murderer (something that has been attempted ad nauseam and with relish) uncovers the stories of five victims, each one different and unique but with the same grinding struggle against the poverty, misogyny and cruelty of Victorian London. The historical research is exceptional, and because of that meticulous detail, these five women finally step out from the shadows.

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton is out now.

  • Three Hours

    In rural Somerset in the middle of a blizzard, the unthinkable happens: a school is under siege.

    Pupils and teachers barricade themselves into classrooms, the library, the theatre. The headmaster lies wounded in the library, unable to help his trapped students and staff. Outside, a police psychiatrist must identify the gunmen, while parents gather desperate for news.

    In three intense hours, all must find the courage to stand up to evil and save the people they love.


    'If you read only one thriller this year; make it this one: it is that good' DAILY MAIL

    'Superb' KATE MOSSE

    'It's beautifully, elegantly written, SO gripping, intelligent, timely, affecting and moving' MARIAN KEYES

    'A brilliant literary thriller... moving, masterly' SUNDAY TIMES

    'Kept us on the edge of our seats from start to finish' INDEPENDENT

    'Brilliant' LEE CHILD

    'A novel that you live rather than merely read' DAILY TELEGRAPH

    'Amazing' DAVINA MCCALL

    'An electrifying, pulse-racing novel' RED

    'Wow! This is a stunner of a book, staggeringly good' JANE FALLON

    'An emotionally devastating and beautifully observed literary thriller' OBSERVER

    'Astonishing, powerful, terrifying, heartbreaking' EMMA FLINT

    'Three Hours intersperses scenes of breath-sucking tension with stirring meditations on human nature' SARA COLLINS, GUARDIAN

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