S has disappeared from Ruth and Leonard's home in Brighton. Suicide is suspected. The couple, who had been spying on their young lodger since before the trouble, begin to pour over her diary, her audio recordings and her movies - only to discover that she had been spying on them with even greater intensity. As this disturbing, highly charged act of reciprocal voyeurism comes to light, and as the couple's fascination with S comes to dominate their already flawed marriage, what emerges is an unnerving and absorbing portrait of the taboos, emotional and sexual, that broke behind the closed doors of 1950s British life.
Three is the second of the four brilliant and enigma-ridden novels that Ann Quin published before drowning off the coast of Brighton in 1973 at the age of thirty-seven ... Quin’s 'reproduction' of her characters’ artifacts represents perhaps her most daring attempt to break out of the straitening of both monogamy and realism. While the journal entries are presented in a fairly traditional manner—even poignantly traditional, with dates at top and discussions of weather—the nonwritten recordings, and the audio recordings in particular, are presented in a format that’s more poetry than prose, with the white space on the page made to represent silence or the hum of a tape reeling blank between utterances.
...remains bold, fresh, vital and above all modern ... Quin’s novel tells a simple tale in a way that is both formally daring and linguistically inventive. Dialogue flows freely, shorn of quotation marks and he-said-she-said clarity, and with speakers chopping and changing in the same paragraph ... Three is indeed a challenging book in places, but it is also a stimulating one. It is heartening to know that another Quin novel is slated for release next year. Her singular talent, so prematurely snuffed out, burns bright again.
Quin was a master stylist and a restless innovator in her own work. True to her inimitable form, the book develops its own method of overlapping language as Ruth and Leonard speak over and around each other, interrupted by poetically lineated sections where S’s recorded voice is represented alongside the blank space of her silences. The effect will likely make for heavy wading for many readers but results in an overheated, overcrowded novel that both dazzles and devastates in its uniquely rendered but nonetheless ubiquitous truths. Further evidence to cement Quin’s reputation as one of the most innovative, and most underappreciated, voices of her time.