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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Ann Quin

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To purchase Three

Title: Three
Author: Ann Quin
Genre: Novel
Written: 1966
Length: 150 pages
Availability: Three - US
Three - UK
Three - Canada
Trio - France
  • With an Introduction by Brian Evenson

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Our Assessment:

B+ : strong writing, interesting presentation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Statesman . 27/5/1966 Edwin Morgan
The NY Times Book Rev. B- 9/10/1966 Daniel Stern
TLS . 2/6/1966 .
TLS . 26/2/2021 Anna Aslanyan

  From the Reviews:
  • "Miss Quin has relied on her extraordinary gift for language to salvage people who, I am afraid, are beyond salvation. For long stretches, this British author (...) writes a vivid, supple prose flashing with insights. These segments, however, serve to prove how digressive and unfortunate her almost arbitrary experimentalism is in the rest of the book." - Daniel Stern, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The boundaries of possibility may be easier to cross in literature than in life, and yet few writers have ever dared to follow Ann Quin all the way to the horizon." - Anna Aslanyan, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ann Quin was among the leading British innovative authors of the late 1960s and early 1970s, along with the likes of B.S.Johnson and Alan Burns. She published four novels in her brief career, and, like Johnson, she committed suicide in 1973.
       Three was the second of her novels to be published. It tells the story of Ruth and Leonard, a couple who had taken in a young woman (here called "S") who, apparently, committed suicide. Ruth and Leonard's lives are described, as they go on with their lives -- and also as they speculate about what happened to S, and why. S left behind some journals and tape-recordings, and parts of these are also introduced as Ruth and Leonard read and listen to them, trying to understand what happened. The past is thus revisited, largely as seen through S's eyes, often surprising Ruth and Leonard who, in part, harbour different memories -- and had imagined S's life differently as well.
       The book is a brief but fairly dense one. Alternate sections present Ruth and Leonard's lives, and excerpts from S's recordings and journals.
       In the sections relating the couple's life, Quin seemingly describes everything in setting each scene -- though never in excessive detail. She offers it almost like stage directions. There are also no quotation marks to separate spoken words from description, and questions and answers follow each other without interruption (or new paragraphs). So, for example:

       Leonard leaned forward, legs apart, body suspended in an enclosed area. Two chairs. Table. Tape recorder. Ruth stared at her rings. Touched her hair. Of course being an only child makes a difference I'm sure. Strange she never talked about her father not even to you. Maybe we should get in touch with him Leon ? Why should we after all it's surely up to him.
       In addition these sections also include looks back -- diary entries and the like dating events.
       S's journal entries describe past events -- throwing more light on the household and S's life. So do the tape recordings, though these are much more succinct. S's spoken observations, in particular, are close and precise, pieces to put together:
A special place for the cat. Never used.
Visitors. Change of linen. Every other day.
Existence bound by habit. Hope. Theirs. Nothing to contend with.
The worst effort not to contradict their next movement.
At first.
       There is a story here, as Ruth and Leonard (and the reader) try to understand what came of S. S is gone, but the events still weigh on the couple at the very outset -- even as they continue their day-to-day lives:
How -- how will we ever be certain Leon how ? We're not to blame remember that no one is responsible for another's actions -- any tea left by the way ?
       They are a fairly ordinary couple, though there are some oddities around -- so the "broken, unbroken, unfinished statues" of Leonard's father that seem to litter the lawn. Ruth complains:
Those ghastly statues of your father's too disembodied pieces of bronze stone and bits scraps of metal you tried making into flesh and blood participators or audience of your little charades frankly grotesque Leon quite quite horrible ugh.
       Charades and mimes were popular entertainments when S was with them, a game they frequently played, inventing, creating, and staging these imagined theatrical scenes. The statues turn the tables on the amateur actors at one point, in a surprising twist, but generally they are the only lifeless audience for the scenes.
       "There's a life here all right", Leonard says, holding out S's exercise books, trying to understand that life after it has been snuffed out. It is not easy to unravel. In part that is S's intention: "My certainty shall be their confusion", she notes in her journal. She also writes:
Patterns reshaped in a form already designed shall anticipate all alternatives, become a measure of a certain consistency. The space between is no less significant than the place occupied at the time.
The possibility of what might have been sinks away. Into what is left.
       Quin manages a surprising tension in her novel, and it builds nicely to its conclusion. It is not easy reading, much of it, but it is not merely wilful experimentation either. The two sides of the story, and present and past, are slowly, carefully unfurled, and they do come together neatly in the end. It is not a happy tale -- but then readers won't expect it to be, knowing that S died from the beginning. But Three is certainly a satisfying, full tale.
       Quin's control over language is very fine indeed. Much of it is lyrical. There is no excess here. It reads -- even for a so-called "experimental" work -- exceptionally well. Still, it's not straightforward, simple prose, and readers who don't like putting much effort into their reading will probably find the style fairly annoying. Imagine the quotes above stretched out for some 140 pages
       But anyone who is interested in what can be done with language and with fiction should certainly find Three worthwhile.

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Three: Reviews: Ann Quin:
  • See the complete review's Ann Quin page
Other books by Ann Quin under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author Ann Quin (1936-1973) published four novels. She won a D.H.Lawrence Fellowship as well as a Harkness fellowship.

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