For readers, sniffing out the parallels between the stories slightly obscures one of the pleasures of reverse narrativeits sense of inexorability, of every action tending toward a certain conclusion. Deftly and quietly, Hoffman tucks in the plot strand that ties together her tragic love stories; but following its thread isn't what keeps readers turning the pages. That honor goes to the young Frieda of the novel's middle section, in part because her brave, direct character is more appealing than insecure Maddy and sad, silent Lucy, and in part because she moves in a time and place many of us might have liked to witnessone where fans screamed to have a glimpse of John Lennon and an air of exotic possibility touched even young hotel maids, who, in their thick eyeliner and minidresses, "looked like a horde of Cleopatras when they went out en masse."
The New York Times
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 fiancé,; 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. (Apr.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
In a haunted London hotel, the lives of three women intersect across time. A jealous sister cheats with her brother-in-law to-be, a chambermaid beguiles a rock star by composing an original lyric, and a 12-year-old girl is enlisted as go-between for doomed lovers. In each vignette's time warp, the hotel ghost conducts his nightly seventh floor rampage. Hoffman's unsettling and compelling 20th novel weaves the sadness and loss of ordinary people coping in extraordinary ways into tensile strength. The book and audio share the same haunting cover art depicting the fragile third angel who anonymously walks among us to give us aid. Reader Nancy Travis is able to unravel the threads of interlocking plot pieces without drawing the spotlight, allowing the story to outshine the voice reading it. Essential for fiction collections. [Hoffman's Here on Earth was an Oprah Book Club selection in 1998.-Ed.]
School Library Journal
Once again, novelist Hoffman (Skylight Confessions) weaves a mesmerizing tale of the human condition, this time examining the nature of love. Set in London, her new novel tells the story of three different women, tangentially connected. The book's first part focuses on self-absorbed Maddy Heller, who has always coveted her sister Allie's life. That obsession continues when she has an affair with Allie's terminally ill fiancA©, Paul. The second part travels back in time to follow Paul's mother, Frieda, as she becomes involved with an engaged and tragic rock star. The final section concerns Maddy and Allie's mother, Lucy Green, who was in the middle of a fraught love triangle many years before having the girls. Each of these women has lost her faith and each searches for the one angel on earth who can renew it for her. A solid story with a haunting plot line and interesting characters, this latest novel is sure to please Hoffman's fans and win over new readers. Recommended for all public library fiction collections.
Nanci Milone Hill
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
A ghost in a down-at-the-heels London hotel ties together three tragic romances in Hoffman's latest (Skylight Confessions, 2007, etc.). Though all three episodes are strongly conceived with complex characters, the connecting material includes carelessly repetitive plot devices (warring sisters, cancer-stricken mothers), highly improbable links among the major figures and a seriously overused blue heron. The "third angel" metaphor is also heavy-handed, but at least has a tangible connection to the plot. In addition to the Angel of Life and the Angel of Death, Dr. Lewis tells his daughter Frieda, there's a Third Angel, "who walked among us, who sometimes lay sick in bed, begging for human compassion." Frieda passes along this insight to Allie, who marries Frieda's dying son Paul during the summer of 1999 in the novel's first section. Though Allie's furiously jealous younger sister Maddy does everything she can to destroy the wedding-including sleeping with Paul, who's trying to convince his fiancee that he doesn't deserve her-nothing can kill the love that blossoms in Allie as Paul's illness grows mortal. Section two moves back to 1966, when 19-year-old Frieda has fled her father's plans for her to become a doctor and gone to work as a maid at the Lion Park Hotel. Frieda falls in love with Jamie, the junkie rock star in Room 708, and writes him two songs: "The Third Angel" and "The Ghost of Michael Macklin." The latter is about the specter introduced in the book's opening pages, when Maddy hears shouting in Room 707 and learns that something terrible happened there in 1952. In fact, it was Maddy and Allie's mother, then 12 years old, who witnessed the incident that created the ghost, anoutgrowth of yet another doomed wedding. The particulars are recounted in the closing section, which features another cluster of full-bodied characters. By now, however, the piling up of disasters and coincidences has become ridiculous. Some moving material about love and loss, swamped by authorial excess. Agent: Elaine Markson/Elaine Markson Agency
From the Publisher
“Is there an American novelist who understands the complicated and mulitfacted nature of love in all its manifestations — romantic, familial, platonic — better than Alice Hoffman?... Some critics have minimed the complexity of Hoffman’s work by refering to her as a romance writers. Well, Hoffman is a romance writer, but then so were Flaubert, Proust, the Bronte sisters, and Jane Austen. The Third Angel is indeed a romance, but one of intricacy and pathos, with characters beautifully, believably and empathetically drawn.…The Third Angel represents yet another strong, visceral and deeply, darkly moving tale of love and heatbreak, tragedy and redemption from a writer whose keen ear for the measure struck by the beat of the human heart is unparalleled. The Third Angel is an intense, provocative and throughly affecting novel.”
— The Chicago Tribune
“Like Michael Cunningham’s ‘The Hours,’ Hoffman’ s tale weaves the stories of women at key moments in their lives with revelations both stunning and inevitable.”
— The Pittsburgh Post Gazette
“Its realism, combined with a refreshing lightness and its success in portraying emotion with empathy, draws the reader into a deep involvement with the books’ appealing yet flawed characters. Each woman faces up to her challengers in her own way, proving that everyone in the end is responsible for his or her own destiny.”
— The Economist
“Hoffman’s luminous language bounces us into accepting not only coincident but also its consequences.”
— The Boston Globe
“Alice Hoffman paints her books in big strokes and bright colors, with slashes of romantic reds and blacks. She’s a teller of fairy tells, well-worn or new.”
— The Columbus Dispatch
“With a graceful nod to the power of redemption, Alice Hoffman reminds readers we are all hurt and broken, stumbling through life and fumbling for love, but sometimes we can still find out way to where we want to go.”
— Charlotte Observer
“Headstrong women, reckless love affairs and a liberal dusting of the supernatural are the pleasurable trademarks of an Alice Hoffman novel….Her passionate storytelling and intense characters make a deeply personal connetion that should bewitch old fans and new readers alike.”
— People Magazine (A “People Pick,” 4-stars)
“Un-put-downable….The Third Angel soars….an unforgettable portrait of the depth of true love.”
“Hoffman makes vivid and new the realization that grace, beauty, and forgiveness can arise out of the most devastating situations.”
“Alice Hoffman’s richly layered novel, The Third Angel, is one of her best.”
“Hands down, this captivating book is one of Hoffman’s best. It follows three women’s lives as they flow together and apart, tributaries linked by the same tragic love story and mysterious ghost. You’ll want to start it again as soon as you’re done.”
“A book that’s hard to put away completely. Even long after it’ s finished, you may find its characters sneaking, like ghosts, back into your head.”
— St. Louis Post Dispatch
“These stories capture the fleeting happiness of doomed, misguided love.”
— Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Elegant and stunning….Hoffman interweaves the three storioes, gazing unerringly into forces that cause some people to self-destrut and others to find inner strength to last a lifetime.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“One of her best…an exceptionally well-structured, beguiling, and affecting triptych of catastrophic love stories….Not only is Hoffman spellbinding in this incandescent fusion of dark romance and penetrating psychic insight, she also opens diverse and compelling worlds, dramatizes the shocks and revelations that forge the self, and reveals the necessity and toll of empathy and kindness. Hoffman has transcended her own genre.”
— Booklist (starred review)
“The Third Angel places Hoffman at perhaps the pinnacle of her bountiful literary talents.”
“A mesmerizing tale of the human condition….sure to please Hoffman’s fans and win over new readers.”
“The Third Angel is brilliantly crafted, deeply moving, and utterly enchanting. I loved these characters for their complexity, their unpredictability and for the way they showed subtle and shifting nuance in human nature. One of the best things about Alice Hoffman's writing is that she grounds you in detail and also frees your imagination to soar to places it has never beenoften simultaneously. Reading her is immensely satisfyingand addictive!”
— Elizabeth Berg, author of The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted
More Praise for Alice Hoffman:
“Alice Hoffman is my favorite writer.” —Jodi Picoult
“With her glorious prose and extraordinary eyes . . . Alice Hoffman seems to know what it means to be a human being.”
—Susan Isaacs, Newsday
“Alice Hoffman takes seemingly ordinary lives and lets us see and feel extraordinary things.”
“Hoffman’s characters, male and female, tend to be defined by the restless, lonely ache of what’s missing in their lives, which becomes clear only when they fill the void with something either unexpectedly right or horribly wrong. Along the way, Hoffman seems to wriggle into their skin, breathe their air, and think their thoughts.”
Read an Excerpt
The Heron's Wife
Madeline Heller knew she was reckless. She had flown to London from New York two days ahead of schedule and was now checked into her room at the Lion Park Hotel in Knightsbridge. The air was still and filled with dust motes; the windows hadn't been opened in months. Everything smelled like cedar and lavender. Maddy felt hot and exhausted from her travels but she didn't bother to turn on the air conditioner. She was madly, horribly, ridiculously in love with the wrong man and it made her want to lie there on the bed, immobilized.
Madeline wasn't stupid; she was an attorney in New York. She was thirty-four years old and had graduated from Oberlin and NYU Law School, a tall woman with long black hair. Many people thought she was beautiful and smart, but none of those people mattered. They didn't know her. They had no idea she was a traitor to her own flesh and blood. They would never have guessed she would throw her life away so easily, without thinking twice.
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. That was what had happened to Maddy this past spring when she'd come to London to help plan her sister's wedding. Allie hadn't even asked for her help; it was their mother, Lucy, who'd told Maddy she should go to London and assist with the preparations; she was the maid of honor after all. And then when she got there, Allie had already taken care of everything, just as she always did.
Allie was older by thirteen months. She was the good sister, the perfect sister, the one who had everything. She was a writer who had published an extremely popular children's book. When she walked down the street people often recognized her, and she was always willing to sign scraps of paper for someone's child or present a fan with one of the bookplates she carried in her purse. Once a year she came back to the States to give readings for what had become a perennially popular event where children dressed up in bird costumes. There were nine- and ten-year-old cardinals and ducks and crows all waiting on line to have their copy of The Heron's Wife signed. Maddy sometimes accompanied her sister on tour. She couldn't believe all the fuss over a silly children's story, one Allie had pinched from a tale their mother used to tell. Technically, the story belonged to Maddy as much as it did to her sister, not that she'd felt the need to write a book or change it inside out to suit herself.
The story was one Lucy Heller would tell down by the marsh where the girls had grown up. Lucy's own mother, the girls' grandmother, had waded barefoot into a pond in Central Park to talk to a huge blue heron. She didn't care what people thought; she just went right in. She'd asked the heron to watch over Lucy and he always had. Now Lucy had asked him to protect her own girls and he had come to live in their marsh in Connecticut.
"How can a heron watch over a person?" Maddy had whispered to her sister. She didn't have much faith in stories, even though she was only eight years old. In that way, she was very much the skeptic her mother had been.
"He can have two separate lives," Allie was quick to say, as though the answer was simple, if only Maddy could unwind the mysteries of the universe. "He has his heron life up in the sky and his life down here."
"I'm glad he can help us both," Maddy said.
"Don't be ridiculous." Allie was always so definite and sure of herself. "The blue heron only has one true love."
And so it came to be in Allie's book. There was a woman who married a man she loved. The couple lived in a house that resembled the one on the marsh where the sisters had grown up. There were the same tall silver reeds. The same inky black sky. The bride and groom resided in their house made of sticks and stones for nearly a year, in happiness and peace. And then one day, when the man was out fishing for their supper, there was a knock on the door. The woman answered and there was the groom's other wife, a blue heron come to look for her missing husband.
"How can you stand all these children around?" Maddy had asked at an especially crowded reading. They had runny noses. They were germ filled, noisy, and rude. And did they have to laugh so loudly? It was earsplitting.
In Allie's book, the heron wife was wasting away. Her feathers were falling out. She hadn't eaten a mouthful since her husband had left.
One of us wins and one of us loses, but which will it be? she asked the bride at the door.
"They're my readers. I want them to laugh."
Allie was the one who always came home for visits, but at long last Maddy was to be her sister's guest. Frankly, she'd avoided coming to London; she said she was too busy, but it was more than that. She didn't need to see how perfect Allie's world was. Finally, there was no getting around it; there was a wedding to attend to, after all. A wedding where Maddy would once again be the sidekick, the bad little sister who couldn't follow rules, who even as a grown woman was still afraid of ridiculous things, thunderstorms and mice, traffic jams and airplanes. She would most likely be made to wear a horrible dress of some dreadful synthetic fabric while her sister glowed in white silk or satin. Second-rate, second-best, the dark side of everything. She never believed men who told her she was beautiful and she shied away from friendships. She did her work and kept to herself, the sort of woman who could stand idly by while children removed a butterfly's wings or buried a toad in the mud. What people did on their own time was none of her business. Cruelty, after all, was a fact of life. It wasn't up to her to set the world right. That sort of thing was her sister's concern.
Because Maddy was only in London for a long weekend that April, arriving on a Thursday and departing late Monday, she and Allie had raced directly from the airport to the dressmaker's so that Maddy could have her fitting. They'd been close as children, but had grown apart, and were now as different as sisters could be. Allie, however, had done her best to try and choose a dress that would suit Maddy: blue silk, flattering, showing off Maddy's figure. As for Maddy, she hated the dress, but she kept her mouth shut. She had decided she would try to be the agreeable sister for once in her life. She even agreed to taste potential wedding cakes when they were done with the dresses. That was why she was here. To help her sister.
They went to the baker's and tasted half a dozen confections, but the buttercream frostings were too heavy and the chocolates were too rich. Allie hadn't seemed satisfied with anything. She said she thought wedding preparations were a waste of time. In the end, she chose a plain yellow cake that had been made from her own recipe. She hadn't really needed Maddy after all.
Maddy was still in her compliant mode. "Good decision," she said. "Plain is the way to go. Less chance for anything to go wrong."
Not that she believed in that particular philosophy when it came to herself. Plain was good for Allie, not Maddy. Maddy was greedy and she always had been. She used to steal from her sister, headbands, jewelry, T-shirts. If this had been her wedding cake, she would have wanted mousse and jam and chocolate and brandied apricots and spun sugar. There was no such thing as too much for a girl who always thought she was second-best.
The day after the cake-tasting adventure, both sisters were curled up in bed with stomachaches under a comforter. They wore pajamas and socks. When they were children, they hadn't needed anyone but each other; it felt that way again for an hour or two as they sipped cups of tea. But there was no way to regain what Allie had ruined when she'd left home. When it came down to it, they really had nothing in common anymore. It had been seventeen years since Allie had gone to college in Boston. She went off to London in her junior year, returning only for a week or so at a time. She'd deserted Madeline, left her alone in the big house in Connecticut with their parents, who had reunited after several years of leading separate lives. The Hellers had no close neighbors and Maddy had no friends. She was standoffish in the way that lonely people often are. After her sister left, Maddy grew more isolated. Even when she went off to Oberlin, she was the only one who came home for Winter Term or spring break. When Allie's letters arrived, Maddy refused to read them. Instead, she went out to sit in the reeds. On days when the sky was clear she would sometimes see the blue heron who lived there. She had read that most herons live in pairs, the larger male and the more delicate female, coupled for life, but this one was alone. He was far off, across the water. She often called to him, but he didn't seemed to hear her. He never once looked her way.
Allie's flat off of Bayswater was airy but nondescript, not at all Maddy's style. Nothing to envy. Simplicity once again. Allie's wardrobe was full of wool and cashmere in shades of gray and navy and black. Practical clothes that were well tailored. Maddy knew this because she'd sneaked a look in the closet while Allie was in the shower. She felt as though there was a mystery about her sister, some essential detail that would explain her superhuman abilities to do the right thing. She didn't find any clues in all her searching, although she did discover that the single splash of color in the closet was a sheer pink blouse, a birthday present sent by Maddy last fall from Barneys. She couldn't help but notice that the store's tag was still attached.
The day after the wedding cake fiasco, they went out to lunch with the bridesmaids, even though they still had stomachaches. There was Georgia, Allie's best friend, who was the art director of the publishing company that had published Allie's book. Suzy, a transplanted Texan who had been a student along with Allie during junior year and had married an Englishman. She was now the mother of nine-year-old twin girls, so ensconced in her adopted city that she had a lilting British accent. The third friend, Hannah, taught hatha yoga and lived in the same building as Allie. Allie had been one of her students, and still took a class once a week. Hannah was very tall, and she wore white for nearly every occasion. She looked like a cat, as if she could stretch out and bend in two.
"At last, the little sister!" Georgia cried when Allie and Maddy arrived at the luncheon. Allie's friends gathered around to greet Maddy. It was a nicer restaurant than Maddy had expected; small vases of flowers with name tags marked their places at the table. The other bridesmaids told Maddy that they were jealous because she was the only one wearing sky blue silk--they were all in almond-colored linen.
"Yes, but you'll be able to wear those suits for other occasions," Allie explained when her friends complained. "That's why I chose them. Maddy likes extravagant things."
True enough. The other women had noticed that Madeline was overdressed for the occasion; she was wearing a peacock-colored silk blouse and long silver and opal earrings. Well, people could think she was vain if they wanted to; it wasn't a crime to have good taste, after all.
"Maybe that's why she's never come here to see you before," Georgia guessed. "She's been waiting for the big dress-up occasion so she can show off."
"I haven't come because I work," Maddy said.
"And the rest of us don't?" Georgia wasn't one to back down.
"I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to. So what is it you do that keeps you so busy?"
"I'm an attorney," Maddy said.
The other women exchanged a look.
"Is there something wrong with that?" Maddy asked. "Some comment you'd like to make?"
"Well, she's here now," Allie said to her friends. "That's what's important."
All the same, there was a chill at lunch after that. Allie's friends were polite to Maddy, but no more. They discussed things she didn't understand, television series she'd never heard of, books she'd never read. She was once again, by choice or design, the outsider in her sister's life.
When she went to the lavatory, Georgia and Suzy were there. Maddy swore they shut up as soon as they saw her.
"So what's Paul like?" Maddy asked of the bridegroom-to-be as she washed her hands.
She definitely wasn't imagining it: Georgia and Suzy exchanged an odd glance in the mirror.
"Decide for yourself," Suzy said. She sounded extremely Texas, someone you wouldn't want to cross.
"You're her sister," Georgia added as she reapplied some lip gloss. "I'm sure you can make your own judgments."
"They didn't like me," Maddy said to Allie after lunch. Not that it mattered. She didn't care what people thought of her. She was like her grandmother in that way. She did as she pleased, no matter the consequences. She would have waded into a pond in Central Park if need be. Maddy and Allie had decided to walk home from the restaurant. It was spring after all. They cut through Hyde Park, which was so green they couldn't help but think of home, all of those reeds in the marsh, all those places to hide.
"Of course they liked you," Allie said. "Don't be so insecure."
No one else would have guessed Maddy was insecure. But Allie knew she had been a thumb sucker, a blanket holder, a little girl who had been frightened of spiders, afraid of the dark, terrified of mice. Allie would often have to crawl into bed beside Maddy and tell her a story before she could fall asleep. It was their story, the one about the heron, the one they had shared before Allie claimed it for herself and put it into a book.
"Paul will probably hate me, too."
From the Hardcover edition.