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Ann Quin: Three

Quin’s second novel is an impressionistic novel of three people and how they are trapped in this relationship. Ruth and Leonard are a married couple living by the sea, lonely and bored. Ruth has tried to have children – she has had fertility treatments but without success. Their life is dull, uninteresting, punctuated only by Leonard’s fight with the visitors to the resort who use his garden as a rubbish dump. We get to see his diary, which reveals a life without interest, except for the black marks which indicate when he had sex with Ruth. Somewhere there is a young woman, known only as S. At the beginning of the novel, she seems to have drowned (bear in mind that Quin later killed herself by drowning) and maybe killed herself, as a cryptic note (which we do not get to read) has been left.

S. clearly was a surrogate daughter for Ruth and Leonard, though it is not clear why she is living with them. We learn of her story from her diaries, tapes she has left behind and photos. Her father has left her mother and there seems to be little contact with him. The mother is clearly eccentric, maybe with serious mental problems. But Quin, like her model, Virginia Woolf, is not concerned with accurate details but giving a lyrical impression of thoughts and feelings and this she does very effectively. The lonely, barren life of Ruth and Leonard, their struggle to find some meaning in it and the essential estrangement of S. are beautifully portrayed by Quin, using the different formats she has chosen, be it straight narrative, diary or random thoughts on tape. The fact that S’s death is not suicide by drowning is almost irrelevant.

Publishing history

First published 1964 by John Calder