The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Alice Hoffman was recommended by a friend. I read The River King and enjoyed it, so I decided to try another of her novels. I chose The Third Angel because it had the highest rating among the Hoffman novels that were available through the NC digital library. I didn't like it as much as The River King but still feel it is an excellent book. Perhaps my fondness for The River King is due to the fact that it was the first of Hoffman's books I read.
Hoffman writes about love, but not in a way that carries me into a standard, predictable story. She makes me think and she weaves supernatural aspects into her plots in a way that makes them as realistic as the rest of her plot lines. In The Third Angel she speaks about the angel of life, the angel of death, and a third angel: “The one who walked among us, who sometimes lay sick in bed, begging for human compassion.” This third angel comes to us readers in a few forms throughout the story including a blue heron, who is a character in a children's novel written by Allie, one of the characters in the first part of the book, and a ghost that haunts “The Lion Park Hotel,” an English inn that is the setting for much of the book.
The Third Angel is written in three parts. The first part is the story of two sisters, Maddy and Allie, who have a complicated relationship based on love and jealousy. The next two parts go back in time to cover the stories of Frieda, Allie's mother-in-law and of Lucy, Allie and Maddy's mother. All the stories are about relationships these women experienced that didn't work out the way they'd hoped. I liked the choice Hoffman made to have each part of the novel step back a little further in time.
There were times when the characters in this story made choices that I cringed over, especially Maddy in the first part who betrays her sister in a way that was particularly cruel. Hoffman clearly wanted me to forgive Maddy, but I had more trouble doing that than Allie did. I imagine other readers felt the same. In the second part Frieda gives something of her talent to a man who doesn't deserve her sacrifice and in the third part Lucy, who is a young girl at the time of her story, attempts to help a couple get together and has to deal with the consequences.
The Third Angel is a story about the complications of life. I recommend it for people who want a book that makes them think.
Steve Lindahl, author of Motherless Soul
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