Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Review: Three by Valérie Perrin

Friendships are special things and children are the best at them. They can be so open and welcoming to other children. My own children would come off of playgrounds to inform me that their new friend so and so had told them something or to ask if the new friend could come over the play. Every time they used this language: "my new friend." And while many of these were momentary friendships, not lasting any longer than the time we spent on the playground, they also developed deep and abiding friendships that persist to this day. These dear childhood friendships can be battered and they will survive but they can also be broken given enough stress on them. Valerie Perrin's latest novel, Three, centers on three friends who were inseparable as children but who have gone their own ways as adults because of tragedies and life choices.

Adrien, Étienne, and Nina are only 10 years old when they meet in 1986 in their provincial French town. Nina is graceful, sensitive, and artistic and being raised by her postman grandfather since her mother left when she was small. She is the glue between the two boys. Étienne is good looking and popular, from a wealthy family, but he can never satisfy his judgmental father. Adrien is quiet and wickedly smart; he and his single mother are new to the area. Somehow these very different fifth graders come together to become "the three." The three who are always there for each other. The three who will protect each other. The three who are as much a part of each other as a limb is. Until they are not. Until they are each just one.

In 2017, in their adult lives, Adrien, Étienne, and Nina are estranged. They do not speak to each other. Their once firm plans to escape their town and move to Paris to start a band are long since abandoned. They are very different people than the children and young adults they once were, changed by tragedy and circumstance. Local journalist Virginie, who once knew "the three," watches the fallout as a car pulled from a local lake with a body inside brings back the summer that everything started going so very wrong for each of the friends. Whose body is it? Could it be Étienne's missing girlfriend? And if it is, what will each of "the three" make of it?

Perrin has written an intricately plotted novel that is epic in scope. Her characters are complex and well rounded. Both timelines are told in the present tense but only the portions that the mysterious Virginie narrates are from the first person perspective. This gives a slightly larger distance from the story of "the three" than from Virginie's watchful tale, keeping the fabled friendship just that much more out of arm's reach, that much more enigmatic. The two storylines twine around each other, leading the reader to the things that ultimately ruptured the friendship, to the revelation of the body's identity, to just who Virginie is and who she is specifically to "the three," and to the future that each of them face and embrace in the end. There are well crafted, slow measured reveals of the secrets hidden for years that build the story to its end as Perrin poses the question of whether you can ever really fully know another person, or perhaps even yourself. This is a literary mystery within a well written story of friendship, loyalty, betrayal, the past and the present. It is a quiet, long, slow novel, thoroughly engrossing and occasionally surprising. Fans of literary fiction will enjoy it for sure.

1 comment:

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