Holly Holloway is locked in a dusty room, strapped to a ticking detonator. Told in real time, with flashbacks to past events, the story details that final countdown, second by second, before surging to its dramatic conclusion.
What would you do, what would you choose… if you only had one hour of life left to live?
When the author contacted me asking if I’d be interested in reading and reviewing his book, I immediately went to search it up, feeling increasingly curious. As soon as I read in the synopsis that each chapter would take only a minute to read to correlate with a countdown, I couldn’t resist. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely adore reading books that are formatted a little different from the rest. While recently I’ve been getting a bit sick of those books that add in snippets from newspapers or similar, like With Malice, Atomic Number Sixty sounded like it was formatted in a way I’d never experienced before. Because of that, I decided to pick up this book.
However, there was one slight problem. Readers don’t all read at the same speed, therefore it would be difficult to write a novel formatted around the idea that it would take one hour to read in total. On the plus side, I got through this book really quickly, which was exciting because it was one that was incredibly gripping (for the most part). But unfortunately, the chapters only took me about twenty seconds to read each one. I’m not good at math, but it definitely took me under an hour to read this novel.
On the whole, this was a very gripping and thrilling read. I couldn’t take my eyes from the pages because I was desperate to know how it was going to end. Although, there were quite a few scenes that felt completely unnecessary to the plot and I felt distracted from the main purpose of the story. Additionally, even though we had a few flashbacks to the main character’s past, I didn’t manage to forge any sort of connection with her at all. Yes, I felt sorry for her. But would I care if she was reduced to dust? Meh. I wouldn’t have shed a tear. Like, I know that we were meant to feel some sympathy towards her because of the death of her brother and everything, but I didn’t know him, thus it didn’t impact me. Maybe I’m just heartless, but there wasn’t much to the characters beside their basic function of communicating a narrative. Even that was short-lived.
The ending of this novel was probably the biggest downfall. As the countdown served as the climax, I was really expecting this book to end in a bang. Ha. Get it? Excuse my sad attempt at humour, but what I’m trying to get at is that the ending was very disappointing. I mean, really? That’s the best you could do? I mean, I certainly wasn’t expecting it, but after building up this moment for so long I thought it might have all been resolved in more than a few lines. In that way, this novel felt more like a short story to me. Perhaps if it was marketed as a short story and not as a novel, it would have excused this kind of abrupt ending. Or maybe I’m the one in the wrong here, assuming this was a novel. But either way, the ending would have given the rest of it justice had it have been a little bit more drawn out. To be honest, it just made me roll my eyes.
Lastly, I felt as though the writing style and grammar was quite poor in areas. One of the things that annoyed me the most was writing like ‘this!!’ with an additional exclamation point, which is the way most of us write in texts when we’re super excited. It’s rare that we see this type of childish grammar in a novel. Even just the plain single exclamation point I felt was overused. I know it’s kind of a nitpick-y thing, but not everything was funny in this book and the overuse of exclamation points made it feel like the characters were trying too hard. There was also quite a bit of full capitalisation of words and the excessive use of ellipses, which also felt like unprofessional. Man, I should totally go into editing. Then again, maybe I’d drive some poor author insane.
I suppose if there were one thing I had to pick out as being my favourite aspect of this novel, it would be the way in which it allowed me to gain a glimpse into what it would be like for someone in Holly’s position — which is a terrible thing to think, but terrible things like this do happen in this messed up world. Atomic Number Sixty was an intense and fast-paced read, and I suppose if you’re in the mood for a short story (because that’s what it felt like) you should give this one a try. Just don’t launch into it expecting a fully-developed novel.
What do you think of the idea of writing a book that’s meant to be read in sixty minutes? Are you a slow reader or a fast reader? Have you ever read anything similar to this one? Are you someone who’s really fussy about grammar? I’d love to know!
Thanks to the author, Dave Johnston, for sending me a PDF copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!