Review: 13 Minutes

13 minutesBy Sarah Pinborough

Gollancz, out February 18th

Natasha Howland is found in the river early in the morning by a dogwalker – after being dead for 13 minutes. How did she come to be there?

Sarah Pinborough’s latest gripping novel may not seem to have much in common on the surface with her last, The Death House, but, as with all her recent fiction, it is a cleverly constructed examination of what makes a group of people tick, with both 13 Minutes and The Death House dealing with teenagers and their hopes and fears. This is much more contemporary – to the extent that those buying it on release will find that the events may be “happening” as they read about them – and focuses on a group of teenage girls whose lives have been intertwined for years, with people falling in and out of favour with the “queen bee” as time passes.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the plot here, as there are twists that will make you constantly reassess what you’ve learned so far – at one point there’s a brief reference to Columbo, and at times this does bring to mind the better written segments of that show. Pinborough weaves a performance of The Crucible into the story (making me go back to reread that for the first time in far too long), and she tackles some of the same themes as Miller does in the play while telling an enthralling YA crime story.

Pinborough uses many different narrative forms to tell the story – from straightforward first and third person narratives to text messages between two of the girls, and excerpts from diaries and medical transcripts – which means that we constantly get new perspectives on the situation. She gets inside the heads of the teen girls in a realistic way (confirming many things that the parent of anyone of that age group really doesn’t want to know!); I showed passages from the book to my Year 9 daughter, who instantly recognised characters and situations from her own classmates. The power struggles, the manipulations, secrets and lies that are the foundation of their social groups are laid bare by the devastating events – culminating in a taut climax with just a hint of Gothic horror… If you enjoyed Stephen King’s Carrie, you’ll love this: teenage girls can be just as horrific without the need for psychokinetic talents.

Verdict: 13 Minutes is another fantastic demonstration of Sarah Pinborough’s gifts for telling an enthralling tale. 9/10

Paul Simpson


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