the three of us, A well-crafted first novel by Nigerian-British Ore Agbaje-Williams, UK Book Editor during lockdown, made me feel trapped and looking for ways to escape.
Described as a mixture of domestic noir and comedy of manners, Agbaje-Williams’ novel closely traces the sly dynamic between three wealthy, well-educated young Britons of Nigerian descent—a married couple and the wife’s diabolical best friend—over the course of a single booze-soaked day. The result is certainly more disturbing than entertaining.
Each of the three characters takes turns sharing their point of view, starting with the unnamed beautiful wife, who doesn’t work or do much but sports, gossip, and deals with her best friend from childhood, whom her husband hates. Timmy, the only named character, appears regularly at the couple’s luxurious home, where “they are only the third black couple to move into the gated community throughout its eight-year existence.” She routinely outsmarts her welcome and flatters, insults and angers the mild-mannered husband, which his wife somehow finds amusing. “I expected to be monogamous when I got married,” he says. “Looks like I live with two.”
What’s with Timmy? We’ll have to wait for the third part of the novel to hear her point of view, but there’s no big reveal because by then we love her so much: she can’t believe her friend betrayed her college understanding–until she never does. Marriage and Live BMFM: “By Myself, By Myself.” But for Timmy, their pact meant unfailing loyalty to him Ha.
Timmy does not mince words, especially when attacking her husband. She told her friend, “This guy doesn’t fit into the plans we made.” In fact, not all men were ever part of her plan. She considers them “tools, not partners. Their supposed superiority over women throughout history has made them complacent and prevented them from developing sufficiently, and so they are no longer usable in the long run.” In one of the funny lines in the book, she says, “Guys like those pans that say nonstick, then fry one egg and wrap the whole pan.”
The wife comments: “It’s been a running theme throughout my relationship with my husband that Timmy thinks I don’t like him and that I have a great end game that I’m working towards.” But she did not defend her marriage or her husband, preferring to remain “Switzerland” between the two warring parties.
When the wife tells Timmy that she and her husband are trying for a baby, Timmy gets angry. She intensifies her efforts to disrupt the marriage, resorting to stealth attacks – including undermining a husband’s trust in his wife.
We’ve seen jealous, possessive, and endlessly domestic boyfriends before, though perhaps not quite as likably, not at all. Of course, fictional characters don’t have to be likable or sympathetic to be effective, but they do have to be interesting. Temi, manipulative and controlling, bears similarities to the intrusive scene-stealers at Zoë Heller’s What was she thinking? Notes on Scandal and Claire Messud The woman is upstairs. But it’s more annoying than interesting.
A complacent silly wife doesn’t help matters. “My husband and I matched because he expected nothing of me…he wanted someone quiet and pretty…in my husband I found someone whose minimum was more than enough, someone who expected nothing of me that I wasn’t willing to give.” Even pressure for a child.
Do the Nigerian roots of the trio change the picture? Not much — though, like many immigrant children, they experience added pressure from their parents to “check the boxes” — top grades in school, professional success, a good marriage and children. Here, women clearly act against such expectations. As for the husband, he is an obedient and loving son who is happy with his privileged life. It’s a nice embodiment. A bright student, Timmy rebels early on, insisting on being her own person. But she needed an assistant. She freed her meek friend from parental control and took her under her wing – where she was expected to stay.
How does the characters’ wealth affect this harrowing exploration of marriage, friendship, loyalty, and suspicion? Does he turn it into fantasy – or reduce the stakes? Even though the couple’s closet is completely bare—and unhealthy Snickers (candy bars, not smiles) are strictly rationed—no one is in danger of going hungry in this family. Untouched by true angst, the spoiled trio are free to play with each other.
As the tension mounted on this well-made but ill-conceived long journey into the night, its mixture of booze, cynicism, and shadows of the unborn child made me think of Edward Albee. Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf, althoug The three of us Less traumatic or forceful. Indeed, this novel, staged like a three-act play, would probably play better on stage than on the page.
Conclusion: Agbaje-Williams fails to make us care about how this power grab happened.
#married #couple #wifes #manipulative #friend