Review of Three by Ann Quin

Composed of alternating styles in the form of a diary, recordings, jottings, and near stream of consciousness, Three will likely be very different from anything you have read before.

Starting with Joshua Cohen’s idiosyncratic introduction, in which he outlines the major conflicts, the love triangle, and overviews the appeal of the interplay of plot and form. The experimental format of the novel proper conveys the interior tensions at play within the central relationships, the cramped emotions of the characters, clustering voices, administrating ablutions, solitary or entwined in subtle psychological tension.

Deliberate ambiguities intrude. Quin is freely dismissive of formal conventions. Her liberated style will appeal to fans of Kavan, Carrington, Emshwiller, and more radical departures from the norm.

Discernible through the exact details are the facets of lives, accumulating into an avalanche of text, interiority sublimating into exteriority. Erratic variations in tone and voice lend it a jazzy, back and forth, improvisational feel. Suggestive onslaughts of narrative are choked off prematurely, leaving the reader aching to grasp at the loose ends. Characters convey ceaseless restless interaction with the environment.

It might put you in mind of W. S. Burroughs’ cut-up method, the scattered collage comprising a coherent fictional space. It describes minutely the accrued actions which constitute living. These everyday images make way for impressionistic stylings in due course, with hints of surrealism, pointillism, narrative poetry, composite conglomerate manipulations of form, suffused with a pleasing, compressed dreamlike aura.

A tad like Molly’s soliloquy if you ask me. Forms of hysteria are subtly infused into the text, as the main characters sort through the literary remains of the absent secondary narrator. The odd approach of the novel works for its drama and elusive, elegiac quality.
It combines strong evocations of the time and place it is meant to capture, expresses a push toward individuality and explores the loyalty inherent in any romantic relationship. The quibbles and accords of realistic, i. e. flawed, individuals, the recurring ways in which we blame the other person in the relationship for momentary unhappiness, the discomfort and miniature betrayals which result, and a pervasive, repressed passion.

Overall, an intriguing experiment.

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