Salley Vickers
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One Man, Two Women.

Vickers's portrayal of suppressed grief is masterly. Though their emotions are in turmoil, Bridget and Frances must act out the mechanics of living, Frances soothing her temperamental artists while Bridget impulsively buys a ramshackle house in Shropshire with Peter's life insurance money. Woven through their recollections of him, Peter's story begins to emerge: his first passionate love affair; his secret conversion to Catholicism; and his furtive love for a mysterious young prostitute who somehow forms another triangle between himself and God, sexual ecstasy making his "heart available to his God in a new way". As he is mourned it is Frances, in an uncharacteristic act of piety, who in inadvertently summons him from "the place of windy dark" to begin his ghostly journey towards salvation.

The women make journeys too, even as new disruptive forces enter their lives in the form of a charming Iranian lodger, a tortoise-loving artist and a Shakespeare-quoting Shropshire chimney sweep. For a while this is a serious book, it is also a very funny one, with characters who could have stepped straight out of an Ealing comedy. And if the authorial presence occasionally seems overbearingly all-knowing, the reader is disarmed when Vickers acknowledges of one many gnomic utterances that "that remark was either extremely banal or extremely wise".

Instances of the Number 3 is touching, thought-provoking and entertaining. I suspect it may also be extremely wise.

Mary Gibson, The Tablet, 20/10/01,


 
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