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Review: Instances of the Number 3 by Salley Vickers

instances of the number 3 vickers Review: Instances of the Number 3 by Salley Vickers

When Peter Hansome dies in a car accident, a number of carefully concealedor perhaps simply wilfully ignoredtruths bubble to the surface. Bridget Hansome, Peters widow, is contacted shortly after by Frances Slater, Peters long-time mistress, who asks whether she might attend his funeral.

If the authorial pen for this narrative were being wielded by anyone else, this story would veer into flagrant tumult, but in the hands of acclaimed writer Salley Vickers things proceed rather differently from how one might expect. Bridget and Frances, rather than locking horns over who is the rightful possessor of Peters heart, embark instead on a mutual journey of self-discovery, delving quietly and inexorably into Peters past, which is a dark and problematic area about which each has her own suspicions, but has continued thus far quite happily without airing them to the world. The two develop an acquaintance that teeters between friendship and adversary, and its this unlikely relationship, along with that of the mysterious Zahin, a handsome Iranian boy whose relationship with Peter remains ambiguous until the end, that takes up much of the rest of the book.

I suspect that American readers might be put off almost immediately by this development, but that British readers or those from rather more conservative societies might well be sympathetic to each womans quiet acceptance of the others existence. Both women wish to maintain face by avoiding explicitly addressing the subject in public, but whats perhaps most curious about this is that the status quo that has extended for the past seven years has been maintained. Peter, after all, made little secret about the fact that he took mistresses, and both Bridget and Frances were aware, to at least some degree, of the existence of the other.

This may seem horribly anti-feminist, but Im not entirely sure that it is. As the book unfolds, the reader sees that while Peter sees himself as playing a major role in the lives of his wife and mistress, neither woman considers him in such a light. Both are independent and successful in their own right, and while they partake of his company, there is little sense of their giving themselves over to him. Peter fills a gap or sorts, but whether this gap is one that needs filling is questionable. Indeed, the complex relationship that the two women develop is less about wishing to keep Peter alive in some sense, but more about examining their own selves through the lens of the othersomething that is possible largely because Bridget and Frances are so curiously different.

Peter, then, despite being to some degree the theme of the novel, is rather less of a character (although he does crop up, Hamlet-like, in ghostly form every now and then). While the reader is guided to look towards trilogies, triptychs, and triads throughout the novelat the levels of character, symbol, and themeI found personally that Bridget and Frances are rather more of a binary, and that while Peter is omnipresent, his role is certainly not that of a third party within their relationship. Peter, indeed, fades as the others move on with their lives, and additional binaries take over instead: Francess pregnancy, for example, linking her to her child, but curiously helping to break her bond with Peter; and Bridgets relationship with unsubtly named and alarmingly well-read chimney sweep Stanley Godwit, which of course has a severing force. Of course, love triangles abound throughout the book almost to the point of absurdity, but in my mind rather than highlighting the famous strength of the three-sided bond, theres a certain unevenness in these relationships: two parts of the three unfailingly dominate the third.

Vickerss work famously draws on literary and artistic allusion, and Instances of the Number 3 is no different, although its approach is slightly less heavy-handed than those in works such as The Other Side of You, which uses a Caravaggio painting as an anchor point, and Miss Garnets Angel, which rather heavy-handedly integrates an historic, Biblical narrative into the main story. Poetry and performance are caught up in the novel (and indeed, are quoted at length, which is not an approach that quite works for me), and we are given myriad works against which to consider Peters ethical self, and indeed those of his surviving lovers. Dante gets a nod, and so does Shakespeareand lets not forget Yeats, whose When You Are Old gets more than a look-in. The issue of godly punishment and religious self-flagellation is also raised: Peter, a closet Catholic, after all, dies on his way to visit another lover, and it is his mistress, not his wife, who ends up carrying his child.

As always, Vickers provides enough food for thought to feed the metaphysical souls of an army, and while Instances of the Number 3 does occasionally overstep the mark in the coincidences and twists it throws up, for the most part its a fascinating, absorbing readperhaps in part because of the authors sober, uninvolved style, which allows these characters to indulge their flights of fancy without it coming across as such.

Highly recommended.


Rating: star Review: Instances of the Number 3 by Salley Vickersstar Review: Instances of the Number 3 by Salley Vickersstar Review: Instances of the Number 3 by Salley Vickersstar Review: Instances of the Number 3 by Salley Vickersblankstar Review: Instances of the Number 3 by Salley Vickers (excellent)

Purchase Instances of the Number 3 from Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA

See also our review of'Dancing Backwards

See also our review of'The Other Side of You

See also our review of Miss Garnets Angel

Other books by Salley Vickers:


miss garnets angel vickers Review: Instances of the Number 3 by Salley Vickersmr golightlys holiday vickers Review: Instances of the Number 3 by Salley Vickersother side of you vickers Review: Instances of the Number 3 by Salley Vickers

pixel Review: Instances of the Number 3 by Salley Vickers


  1. I havent read any thing by this author but I will have to look for her, Thanks for the review Steph!
    Shelleyrae recently posted..Aussie Author Month- Modern Girls

  2. My pleasure, Shelley Rae. Shes definitely one of my favourite authorsIve loved everything shes written!
    Stephanie recently posted..Review- The Cursed Ones by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie

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