5.13.2008

Alice Hoffman's The Third Angel

In her 18th novel, Alice Hoffman weaves the lives of three women together around a grimy, haunted London Hotel. Maddy, Frieda, and Lucy all realize something important while in this dreary hotel. The novel largely contemplates the power and necessity of empathy. In short, quick prose, Hoffman creates a bevy characters, whose actions indicate how close people can be to one another. The title comes from an idea that the third angel, not the angel of death or life, but the angel of, something like, kindness walks with all of us. Essentially, the third angel is the power of human caring, the ability we all have to help each other, altruistically, because we are in a position to help. Hoffman's invocation of the third angel in the story works best in the last tale about Lucy, in which Lucy learns a powerful lesson about love and family from a stranger whose heart has been stolen from him.

The premise is heartwrenching, but the grand, nostalgic nature of the plot and the emotional ailments of the characters do not come through as clearly as they should. The prose is clipped, sparse, as if it's too sclerotic to handle a heavy dose of human emotion.

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