Alice Hoffman aficionados are well acquainted with the novelist’s obsession with the magical, mystical moods of Mother Nature—the blackbird with a broken heart, the river with a secret, the ice storm without remorse. The Third Angel, her latest work—following Blackbird House, The River King and The Ice Queen, to name a few—places Hoffman at perhaps the pinnacle of her bountiful literary talents.
Like many of her previous novels, The Third Angel explores the dark side of love, the blissful dream turned nightmare, where the bogeyman arrives and swallows the lovebirds whole, without warning. For sisters Madeleine and Allie, preparing for Allie’s wedding in London, circa 1999, the insidious struggles of sibling rivalry reach their denouement in a reckless act of betrayal. Still, Hoffman’s plaintive poetic prose seems to urge readers to forgive Maddy for the transgressions against her noble—and far more likable—big sister, Allie, the author of an award-winning children’s book, The Heron’s Wife.
Leaving the story of Maddy and Allie behind, but not forgotten, Hoffman takes her reader by the hand, reaching back in time to visit with the Mary-Quant-clad, drug-fueled, Mick-Jagger-crazed world of London in 1966. Here, amid the needle-strewn debauchery of the once grand but fading Lion Park Hotel, we meet the innocent Frieda, a muse to budding rock star Jamie—a heroin-addicted hero with a bad case of writer’s block.
Finally, The Third Angel travels back to 1952, where the disparate threads of this fateful tale are bound and interwoven. This tragically vibrant tapestry is imbued with the novel’s myriad flawed, albeit decent, characters, many of which are not human. We meet a blue heron and a white rabbit (a black humorist’s nod to the ever-present specter of heroin, or perhaps an homage to Alice in Wonderland) a handsome, angry ghost and yes, a trio of angels, too.
With this novel, Hoffman once again demonstrates that the bogeyman is relentless, to be sure, but no match for the kind of love that endures the ravages of life.