Three by Valérie Perrin is published with Europa Editions UK. Superbly translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle, Three is described as ‘a masterly crafted story full of suspense and unexpected plot twists’. Having completely lost myself in the truly magnificent Fresh Water for Flowers, Valérie Perrin’s English debut, in June 2021, I actually let out a shriek when I received a copy of Three. I think Valérie Perrin could write about two flies climbing up a wall and I would be smitten. This is a writer who can do no wrong in my eyes. Her words are exquisite, her descriptions so very vivid and every character is brought to life on the page.
Three introduces us to ten-year-olds, Nina Beau, Étienne Beaulieu and Adrien Bobin, three youngsters whose friendship was born on the first day of fifth grade, September 3rd, 1986 at École Pasteur in La Comelle, a small French town in Burgundy. It was an accidental friendship that was the result of the new term classes being divided up using surnames to denote which line a pupil belonged to. Nina, Étienne and Adrien all had a surname beginning with ‘B’ and that alone was enough.
‘They were three, or nothing.’
Nina, Étienne and Adrien had a friendship that surpassed the ordinary. Each had complex family stories that connected the three as they forged an unbreakable bond that was supposed to last forever. They never saw each other as boy/girl but simply as three friends who shared literally every moment of their lives.
‘Give or take two hundred meters, all three of them lived at an equal distance from the school. They were united by the same ideal: leaving when they were grown up. Quitting this hole to go and live in a city full of traffic lights, noise, and frenzy, of escalators and store windows, with bright lights everywhere, even in the middle of the night. With crowds on the pavements, of strangers, of foreigners one can’t gossip about.’
Life has a nasty habit of getting complicated but in 1986 three ten-year-olds did not have the capacity to see what lay ahead for them. As the years passed, with its too hot summers, Nina, Étienne and Adrien moved through puberty and into those complicated years of adolescence. As each made a bold step toward adulthood, they remained steadfast in their commitment to each other at all times but tragedy reared its ugly head and all three had to face up to a future very much altered from the one of their youthful dreams and plans.
It’s now 2017 and our narrator, Virginie, is recounting the lives and losses of Nina, Étienne and Adrien over the years since that friendship was set. Virginie is a local freelance reporter and is summoned to write a piece on the discovery of an old car in a lake. There is a suggestion it may contain the body of someone who went missing many years previously. Old memories surface and Virginie takes the reader on an extraordinary journey from 1986 onwards. Virginie, in her own right, is a very enigmatic character. As the novel progresses we learn snippets about who she is, all done with very subtle and poignantly depicted scenes.
“My name is Virginie. I’m the same age as them.
Today, out of the three, only Adrien still speaks to me.
Nina despises me.
As for Étienne, it’s me who can no longer stand him.
And yet, they’ve fascinated me since childhood. I’ve only ever become attached to those three”
With an exquisite pen Valérie Perrin explores the intricacies of life in its finest details. Bullying, first loves, dreams, music, secrets, guilt, pain, anger, jealousy, abandoned ambitions, discontent, death all play vital roles in this epic tale. Bewitched is a word I would use to describe my experience of reading Three. I reminisced and felt nostalgic for my teenage years and I was completely enchanted by the vividness of the scenes set throughout.
Three encapsulates everything I love about a book. At over 550 pages of quite small print, it is a book that may look daunting but trust me when I tell you that this is one that you do not want to miss out on. Exceptional in every way, Three is a wonderful investment of your time. Savour it. Do not rush it.
Rich in illuminating passages, complex in character descriptions, eloquent in dialogue and expression, Three is a magical and captivating read, proving once again that Valérie Perrin is a master of her trade.
(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)
Order your copy online here.