Salley Vickers
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The eternal triangle of love, longing, and loss.

The "eternal triangle" of cliché implies a multitude of griefs as well as tabloid love-exposes. Behind the everyday infidelities of your average two timing rat is a wealth of symbolism as ancient and complex as human desire itself. The triple deities of Egyptian mythology, the three Graces as personification of grace and beauty, the doctrine of the Trinity… all these are instances of the number three, fittingly accompanied by the lightly mocking music of that triangle which is at once a simple instrument for children yet the symbol for the halo of God the Father. The three-legged stool may seem to sit stoutly on the floor, but I wouldn't trust its stability if I were you.

Many writers have approached the theme of infidelity through an examination of the relationship between a wife and a mistress after the man's death, and Salley Vickers approaches the theme with unusual subtlety. Peter Hansome is a man loved by two women: his wife Bridget and his mistress Frances. When he dies in a car crash they become uneasy friends, though each claims superior knowledge of the man himself. He haunts the novel on two levels, both in their memories, and as a soul in Purgatory whom only the wife can see (and in the end) talk to.

Of course, neither the wife nor the mistress knew the secret darker side to Peter's character, and when an odd, beautiful Iranian boy called Zahin appears on the scene this third relic of Peter's life holds the clue to a yet more complex mystery. Salley Vickers again allows the wife, not the mistress, discover, to discover the truth. Frances may end up unexpectedly blessed with the conventional pleasures of domesticity, but is he one fettered to Peter by the bonds of holy matrimony who is granted access to knowledge.

Bridget Hansome is a well-rounded creation who makes Frances
Slater seem somewhat two-dimensional in contrast. Her evolving relationship with Stanley Godwit is described with reticence and grace. This late flowering love is an affair as much of literature as of the heart, yet one feels it to be all the more powerful because of that.

Those who admired Salley Vickers's accomplished first novel, Miss Garnet's Angel will expect Instances of the number 3 the same gentleness of perception and sharpness of intellect, and they will not be disappointed. This is not a novel grand passion; the tone is one controlled politeness with which Vickers describes the emotions of her characters. If at times this strains credulity it is a small price to pay for the realisation that all things can be understood, and all forgiven- the redemptive "Ripeness is all" which sustains you long after the last page.

Bel Mooney, The Times, 01/08/01


 
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