The prologue of Three Magic Women allows the reader a glimpse of Ellie, the main character from The Golden Web, at the beginning of a new life and needing some purpose and direction. These arrive somewhat disguised in the form of her grandmother's letters. Chapter one rolls back the years, and the whole of Part 1 is told by way of the same letters written by Una to her own mother at the age of sixteen, when she was starting married life in The Old Priory, Ellie's childhood home where half of The Golden Web takes place. The letters reveal Una as a strange damaged creature, given to violent passions and imaginings. In Part 2 the novel reverts to where the prologue left off, with Ellie, confused and vaguely troubled, not only by the content of the letters but also by the happenings in the house she shares with others like herself. Somehow she must pick up the threads of normality and learn to live in the real world.
The first part of Three Magic Women is as strange as Una herself. One can't help asking questions about madness, where and how it begins and how broad the cusp of sanity and insanity is. Una's story is punctuated and paralleled (in an odd and non-literal way), by verses from Edmund Spenser's epic poem The Faerie Queene, which seems in some way as mysterious and multi-layered as Una herself.
Part 2 takes place in the present day and is written in a completely different way. Una's voice has gone, to be replaced with a straightforward third person narrative. Events escalate as Ellie attempts to find herself, until the wonderfully lyrical end which will stay with me.