Book review: Hostage Three by Nick Lake

Somewhere in between telling a friend I didn’t understand the hype around Nick Lake’s writing and sighing in exasperation over the romance in his latest novel, Hostage Three, I realised I’d actually managed to get three quarters of the way through the book in two days (two days I’d spent doing a lot of other things).

I’ve not read In Darkness by Lake, but the reviews inside my copy of Hostage Three assured me that Lake’s first novel was “serious, nuanced, challenging” and “remarkable”.

Hostage Three didn’t live up to those generous compliments at first, despite an adrenaline-filled first few pages. Amy, a whiny teenager who lost her mum and lives with her rich banker dad and his wife, has just crashed spectacularly out of her A-levels and is now being forced to spend the summer on a luxury yacht with aforementioned dad and step-mum.

Spending days lazing around, flirting with the captain and doing much of nothing, her life changes when pirates take the yacht hostage in the waters off the coast of Somalia.

What follows is more of Amy whining, but also a story about a girl finally seeing the world from different eyes – that of young, handsome pirate Farouz.

Yes, this was the point at which I went: “Seriously?” Because there’s handsome men, and then there’s handsome men who come on board your ship with a bunch of strangers, all with guns and knives, take you and your family hostage and want millions of pounds in exchange for your freedom. Stockholm syndrome crossed my mind, but Amy fell for Farouz far too quickly for this to be the case – her attraction to him was virtually instant.

Still, putting the weird romance to one side, Farouz was able to show Amy a different side to the world with his stories of a hard life in Somalia. Lake doesn’t glamourise pirates in any way, but he does delve into the reasons behind why they do what they do. Some of the pirates in the novel are just cruel men, others see it as nothing more than a job like being a banker, and others, like Farouz, are doing it to help get something they really want.

Lake’s novel is very much of a certain time – the time when piracy and bankers were hitting the headlines every day. The comparison between bankers and pirates is hardly subtle (“oh look, they both take our money”), and although bankers are still hitting headlines, piracy has taken a bit of a back seat, and so the commentary in this novel feels slightly dated. This is probably more the fault of the media than of Lake, since piracy is hardly dead, we’re probably just choosing to ignore it.

Hostage Three became, in the end, an interesting read. I found myself growing to like Amy, who was definitely a better character at the book’s conclusion, and I found the unravelling of her life well done. Her father and step mum were sympathetic characters, although minor characters in the book weren’t drawn in great detail.

Hostage Three‘s ending really helped salvage it in my mind – the last 50 pages were unputdownable. I found it layered with meaning and thought-provoking, and by the end I understood what those reviews in the front of the book were all about.

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