Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Third Angel

Opening a new Alice Hoffman novel is like opening the most anticipated gift of the year. You know you will again be swept away into a world like no other and meet characters unlike any you’ve met before. The Third Angel is Alice Hoffman at her gift-giving best. The worlds of 1999, 1966 and 1952 bring us coincidentally interwoven heroines joined one to the other by that cruelest of fate—being in love with the wrong man. And characters? How about a ghost, a hotel room and a heron! Hoffman tips the balance of narrative momentum as she takes us back in time or forward in time if you do, as Ms. Hoffman herself suggests, and read the interwoven stories back to front.

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this elegant and stunning novel, veteran heartstring-puller Hoffman (Here on Earth; Seventh Heaven) examines the lives of three women at different crossroads in their lives, tying their London-centered stories together in devastating retrospect. High powered New York attorney Maddy Heller arrives in 1999 London having had an affair with Paul, her sister Allie's fiancĂ©,; she must now cope with the impending marriage, and with Paul's terminal illness—which echoes the girls' mother's cancer during their childhood. Hoffman then shifts to heady 1966 London and to Frieda Lewis, Paul's future mother, who falls for a doomed up-and-coming songwriter knowing he will break her heart. The narrative then shifts further back, to 1952 and to Maddy and Allie's future mother, Lucy Green. A bookish 12-year-old wise beyond her years, Lucy sails with her father and stepmother from New York to London for a wedding. There, she becomes an innocent catalyst to a devastating event involving a love triangle. Hoffman interweaves the three stories, gazing unerringly into forces that cause some people to self-destruct (There was no such thing as too much for a girl who thought she was second best) and others to find inner strength to last a lifetime.

On love:
There was good love and there was bad love. There was the kind that helped raise a person above her failings and there was the desperate sort that struck when someone least wanted or expected it.

On fairy tale love doomed from the start – Maddy and Paul have met purely by chance at Kensington Palace leaving flowers in memory of Princess Diana, and Maddy recalls the stories of Charles and Diana’s courtship:
When Maddy first heard the story, shed wanted to shout, What on earth is romantic about doomed love? But she’d said nothing. Only that Diana had been a foot not to know whom she was marrying in the first place. Maddy had seen an interview in which Price Charles had been asked if he was in love. “Whatever love is,” he had said with Diana sitting right next to him. She should have gotten up and walked away then.

The fatal first step into love:
It was so easy. She opened the door for him and the rest was like disappearing into the dark night to a place where no one could find you. No footsteps, no fingerprints, no evidence of any kind.

Clues forward and back, back and forward:
It was possible to read the story two ways: Front to back, the heron returned to his heron wife and the world of the sky. Back to front, he stayed with his one true love on earth.

Who is the third angel among us? Frieda’s father, a doctor who made house calls, said this of angels:
...there was the Angel of Life, the Angel of Death, and then there was the Third Angel. “It was either the Angel of Life or the Angel of Death who would ride in the back of the car when my father went on house calls, but he never knew which one it was until he arrived at his destination. Even then he said he was often surprised. It was hard to tell the difference between the two sometimes.” …and the third one? “Well, he’s the most curious. You can’t even tell if he’s an angel or not. You think you’re doing him a kindness, you think you’re the one taking care of him, while all the while, he’s the one who’s saving your life.”

Alice Hoffman on loving the wrong man (Hallmark Magazine May 2008):
The wrong man is who we believe we deserve. He’s the man we think we can save. He’s the one only we can understand or fix or relate to. He’s an outlaw, an outsider, a fallen angel, a blank slate, a charmer, a man we go back to despite his flaws. Just as there are women who stay with the wrong man, there are just as many who leave him, and still others who realize that, for a little while at least, the wrong man was, for reasons only they can determine, right for them.

My delight in opening yet another Hoffman gift was enhanced by attending a reading/signing on April 22 where Ms. Hoffman spoke about third angels (the people who come into our lives unannounced and who make changes in our lives…third angels that we don’t even realize until much later who they were and what they have done for us) and the wrong man (who may truly have been the right man all along). Alice Hoffman started out as a voracious young reader who now delights us all with her writing. She says she was “lost in the magic of reading and is now lost in the magic of writing.” And the ghost in Room 708? Real.

5/5 (General Fiction Scale)
Shaye Areheart Books [Random House Imprint] (2008)
278 pages
Finished: April 2008


Les said...

Oooh, Marcia, this one sounds so good. I've fallen far behind in my Hoffman reading. I still have over a half dozen of hers in my stacks, but this one sounds like one to read ASAP! Lovely review. And so nice to see you posting again. :)

Marcia said...

Thanks, Les. I've done (for me) a lot of reading over the past couple of months and finally feel up to tackling the task of catching up on my blog. The Third Angel is definitely a Hoffman-esque reading experience!