A bickering middle-aged bourgeois couple go through the belongings of their lodger, a young woman, who has apparently committed suicide. They listen to her tapes and read her diaries, most of which consist of her observations of their lives. Aspects of the psycho-sexual relations between the three characters emerge from different standpoints.
In typical 1960s style Ann Quin’s four novels get progressively more experimental. The first “Berg” is still in conventional modernist territory, with overwrought mythical subtexts & symbolism, while her third & fourth novels got increasingly lost in formal “postmodern” experimentation. But in her second book, “Three” she gets it just about right. Maybe there’s still some Pinter/Beckett-type influence, but Quin definitely finds an original voice. The narrative switches back and forth between characters & the tapes/diaries, thus different perspectives & versions of episodes accumulate, going back & forth in time. As with her friend/rival B.S.Johnson, Quin’s idiosyncrasy lies in combining these “nouveau roman” techniques with a very English tragi-comedy of social manners (& as with Johnson there also is an explicit sense of suicidal hysteria informing the writing). However Quin’s writing has a highly charged visionary, sensual & lyrical quality not found in Johnson. If Johnson was trying to capture reality, Quin was trying to capture the reality of fantasy. All these elements make “Three” an uneven but fascinating and moving novel, which has ceased to be a period piece and once again come to life.
Note: These excellent (American) Dalkey Archive reprints of Quin’s novels are good quality, well-produced editions.