THE THREE OF US
Long-standing tensions between a husband, his wife, and her best friend finally come to a breaking point in this sharp domestic comedy of manners, told brilliantly over the course of one day.
What if the two most important people in your life hated each other with a passion?
The wife has it all. A big house in a nice neighbourhood, a ride-or-die snarky friend with whom to laugh about facile men, and an affectionate husband who loves her above all else. The only thing missing from this portrait is a baby. But motherhood is a serious undertaking, especially for the wife who has valued her selfhood above all else.
On a seemingly normal day, the best friend comes over to spend a lazy afternoon with the wife. But when the husband comes home and a series of confessions are made that threaten to throw everything off balance, the wife’s two confidantes are suddenly forced to jockey for their positions. Told in three taut, mesmerizing parts—the wife, the husband, the best friend—the day quickly unfolds to show how the trio’s dented visions of each other finally unravel, throwing everyone’s integrity into question – and their long-drawn-out territorial dance, carefully constructed over pivotal years, into utter chaos.
At once subversively comical, wildly astute, and painfully compulsive, The Three of Us explores cultural truths, what it means to defy them, and the fine line between compromise and betrayal, ultimately asking: who are we if not for the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and the people we’re meant to love?
Ore Agbaje-Williams is a British-Nigerian writer and editor from North London who has written for gal-dem, Glamour UK and Wasafiri.
Her fiction writing has also been featured on Reflex Fiction. wrote the novel in NaNoWriMo during lockdown. It was originally submitted to editors under a pseudonym.
“Temi comes over at twelve. She brings along the wine and the Kettle Chips I asked her to bring, as well as a packet of cigarettes. She called when she was at the till to ask if I needed a lighter, because the woman who was serving her had asked the same question. I could tell she had the phone in between her shoulder and her chin because I could hear her coat rustling. I said no to the lighter, we had matches at home, but also because I knew I wouldn’t end up smoking, not if my husband would be able to smell it on me.
She was late, I knew she would be. She told me she would get here by eleven but it was eleven forty-five when she called me from the shop. I knew she would be late before that, though, because she always is. It’s her thing. She’s the only person I let come to anything late. That’s what happens when you’re best friends. You let things slide…”
“I realise that having someone, someone to love and share your life with, is a nice thing to have. That physical companionship is, of course, nice. But the concept of romantic happily ever after has become increasingly alien to me, and I know it isn’t necessary for survival”
“She is probably the only person in my life who has never wanted something from me, only for me”
“She’s seeing a few different guys and she gives them nicknames rather than calling them by their real names. If I tell you their names you’ll get attached, she says”
“It’s something my mother hates about me. You have a degree and no job. A house but no children. You’re like an empty fridge. Expensive to run and yet completely useless”
“I pictured us content, rather than happy, because in reality, happiness is an unachievable concept designed to keep people unhappy and spending money on things they don’t need”
“Men are instruments, not partners. Their presumed superiority over women throughout history has made them complacent and stopped them from evolving, and so now they are no longer fit for long-term use. They serve a purpose and then they expire…”
“Over the years I’ve observed many things about my friend and her husband by way of their bathroom, including the fact that even though they can afford to replace their Aesop hand soap and moisturiser with new bottles, they actually refill it with Dove handwash and Baylis & Harding moisturiser, which they hide in the cupboard. Confirmation that rich people really are the cheapest people on earth”
“I expected to live with one woman when I got married. Apparently I live with two”
The premise of this book seems straightforward, although I now believe it is anything but. We have a love triangle marriage, with three people in it, the husband and wife who remain unnamed throughout and the wife’s best friend who is called Temi. There are numerous added complications, probably the most pertinent of which right now, being that the husband’s sister is married to Temi’s brother and they have just announced that they are expecting a baby, which is of particular significance because the husband and Temi dislike each other intensely, which together with the fact that the husband and wife are also supposedly trying to start a family of their own, forms the crux of the storyline.
All of our protagonists and their extended families are of Nigerian descent, all wealthy, well educated, high employment achievers and mostly living the dream in London suburbia – complete in some perverse form of psychology, with their white maids. Whether they are financially independent or not, the mothers appear to control the purse strings and order the direction of their households, even down to ensuring that their daughters make good marriages, whilst their sons carry on the family name, thus making their future welfare the main focus.
Temi and the wife have been the best of friends since school, however, with the wife having only sisters as siblings, the pressure on her is not to carry on the family dynasty, but to make the best marriage possible, have a successful career, and procreate. In contrast, Temi has extremely wealthy parents, who both have financially lucrative and respected careers and who also have two sons, both training to be doctors, thus ensuring the good name of the family is upheld. Temi, who is actually very intelligent, is therefore to some extent, left pretty much to her own devices, without having the same pressures placed on her, as her friend, the wife.
Temi is the controlling and driving force in the relationship with her friend, she doesn’t want to settle down, has many partners and has always believed that she and the wife hold the same strong and independent views about women’s rights to independence. The wife, on the other hand, doesn’t work, is totally dependent on her husband, and the constant object of her mother’s derision, vitriolic words and thinly veiled barbs. The husband is certain there is a family history his wife has never opened up to him about, but he isn’t controversial enough to want to dig around and confront any issues, especially as his relationship with his wife is not all plain sailing right now, as he suspects his wish for them to become parents, is more than a little one-sided on his part.
The only thing the husband is definitely prone to showing signs of emotion about, is his hatred of Temi, for the influence he perceives she has over his wife, so when Temi, who has been notable by her absence from his home for the last few weeks, turns up unexpectedly and shows no signs of leaving, he is most displeased. When the two women are together they tend to drink to excess, which loosens tongues, especially as he also takes to the bottle when they gang up on him verbally. Today, whilst the wife popped out, Temi, who has her own key to their house, has been going around the rooms searching through cupboards and she believes she has found irrefutable proof that the wife has been lying to her husband about her desire to become pregnant. She now hopes to break them apart irrevocably, so that she and the wife can live their lives as freely as she believes they should and that this is also what, if she were truly honest with herself, the wife desires deep down.
The entire story begins, develops and might possibly reach a conclusion (although that is very much open to interpretation!), in just a single, hate fuelled day. Tensions have been bubbling away with ever increasing ferocity just below the surface, for some time now, in fact for the entire three years of the husband and wife’s marriage to be exact. Temi has chosen today to bring events to a head, especially when she discovers that the husband is trying to make his wife pregnant and she is not convinced that this is what her friend really wants, so she is out to cause as much mischief as possible, by confronting the husband with what she believes are the true facts of his wife’s duplicity.
In some respects, this storyline reminded me of the original 1970s stage play version of Abigail’s Party, for its conversational, monologuing style of presentation, with this relatively short storyline being divided into just three distinct chapters, each narrated solely in the voice of the wife, the husband and finally, Temi herself, depicting their individual perspectives on almost identical events. There are no speech marks and very little paragraphing, so you do need your wits about you to concentrate on each and every word.
There is more going on than meets the eye in this household today and it is all in the multi-layered narrative, which is nicely textured and cleverly nuanced. There are, in fact, one or two moments of dark levity and amusement, in what is otherwise quite a dour and depressing few hours, with an atmosphere which becomes ever more tense and claustrophobic with each passing bottle of alcohol consumed.
A small cast of three characters, none of whom I could relate to, empathise with, or invest in, which I am in no doubt is exactly as the author intended, were completely unreliable, complex and both verbally and emotionally volatile.
The way that Temi and the husband vie for the wife’s attention and affections, is very disconcerting and tantamount to coercion and bullying in its ferocity. Each is almost forcing the wife to take sides and whilst the wife’s true colours possibly show when her friend is around, it might also be the case that she is emboldened by Temi’s overpowering personality, to show emotions and react in a way which she may later regret. It was also open to interpretation whether or not Temi, despite her open promiscuity with men, actually wanted more from the wife than simply friendship, and if in fact, the wife was also being groomed for a different role and was just too blind to see it, unless of course that was always the wife’s secret! In fact, I wasn’t certain that despite her protestations of independence and self-reliance, if it wasn’t Temi who was the most vulnerable and needy individual in this relationship.
For his part, the husband is as weak and boring as dishwater and needs a good kick up the backside. He needs to be much firmer with both women and tell them that when he comes home from work, it is time for Temi to leave. There are also no open conversations between husband and wife, which is putting more strain on their relationship, as neither really knows what the expectations of the other are, both in terms of their marriage, or as two individuals. He clearly works hard to keep her in the style to which she has become accustomed, but beyond that his communication skills seem very limited.
The wife is all sideways glances, smiles and giggles, which are completely meaningless and give neither Temi nor the husband any real idea of what is going on inside her head. It seems as though she is easily led by both of them, which for someone who has a university degree and is by no means silly, indicates to me that she is confused and in a bad place right now, totally open to suggestion. Does she really crave the independence which Temi so clearly wants for her, or would a marriage where there is an equal partnership be what she really yearns for?
With the exception of one short interlude, the entire sequence of events takes place in the home of the husband and wife, which we know is quite lavish and undergoing renovations following one of Temi’s more notorious stunts to outwit the husband. So no journey to take, or scenery to explore, if you like your reading to cater for your ‘armchair traveller’ yearnings. But, Oh! what secrets those four walls know, if only they could talk!
The story was coming together very nicely, with the tension between our three protagonists building to a juicy, bitter and almost certainly acrimonious crescendo. I had started to make my own predictions about the eventual outcome, of which there were several scenarios, none of which were destined to end well – when Bam! I turned the page only to discover the ‘acknowledgements’ section staring me in the face, leaving me to speculate to my hearts content! Some stories can still work without that neatly packaged conclusion, but I really felt that this wasn’t one of them, as there were simply too many versions of the truth and subsequent endgames left floating around in the ether.
As I have often commented, shorter stories are not usually one of my preferred genres unless they meet a strict three part format – A good solid beginning, a strong storyline and a definitive ending. However, recently I have been honoured to have been invited to read a few stellar examples in the realm of short stories / novellas, so I had no hesitation in accepting The Three Of Us for review. However, whilst this was a well written 4* storyline, just two of my own criteria were met, which unfortunately led to a 3* ending. I have rounded this back up to 4* for review site purposes, although for myself, closure on this strangest of days would have made for a more satisfying experience. There are definitely more questions than answers – maybe too many!
A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by publisher Jonathan Cape and supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion, and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However, some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well-deserved 4 out of 5 stars!
Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I appreciate your support.
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