Alice Hoffman’s 20th novel (after Skylight Confessions, Mar/Apr 2007) is a heartrending tale of doomed love, tragedy, and redemption. Like her previous works, it incorporates the magical and supernatural—to exceptional effect.
The Story: London’s Lion Park Hotel is haunted. Every night at 10:30, the angry voices of a man and a woman ring out in room 707. In three interconnected novellas, the ghosts of the past are revealed through the hotel’s previous visitors. Maddy arrives from America in 1999 for her sister Allie’s wedding, but unfortunately, she is "madly, horribly, irresistibly in love" with her sister’s fiancé Paul. In 1966, Frieda, Paul’s rebellious mother, takes a job as a chambermaid and falls for a heroin-addicted rock musician. Lucy, a bookish 12-year-old (and Maddy’s and Allie’s future mother), becomes the accidental pawn in a love triangle in 1952. Each female encounters the mysterious third angel, who influences and guides her in surprising ways.
Shaye Areheart. 288 pages. $25. ISBN: 0307393852
"This is indeed the stuff of soap opera, but in Hoffman’s deft hand the legerdemain is transformational: We enter the lives of Maddy, Allie and each successive character with the full suspension of disbelief necessary to assure us that love can triumph over anything, including the complexities of life and the seeming finality of death. … The Third Angel is indeed a romance, but one of intricacy and pathos, with characters beautifully, believably and empathetically drawn." Victoria A. Brownworth
Rocky Mountain News
"The characters in the book are fascinating, flawed individuals looking for love after experiencing the traumas of divorce and cancer. … [Hoffman’s] bewitching style and mysterious subject matter culminate in a powerful, dreamy novel." Ashley Simpson Shires
"Hoffman’s depictions of children are heartbreakingly accurate; the author understands their pain and how their early experiences shape the personal myths we all create to define ourselves. … Hoffman employs this compelling concept [of the third angel] with great restraint, but cunning accuracy." Amy Rogers
"Alice Hoffman injects magic realism into everything she writes, and not just the conjuring of ghostly apparitions, spiritual awakenings and uncanny coincidences. Language, plot and relationships also revolve in mystical harmony in her latest novel, which has the otherworldly elements Hoffman is known for, plus the down-to-earth struggles of characters in love or those who hunger for it." Sharon Eberson
"This is a novel that’s really three interlocking novellas, each self-contained yet cleverly linked to the others. And like much of Alice Hoffman’s work (Practical Magic, Seventh Heaven), The Third Angel manages to be about both heartbreak in love and also the triumph of hope." Melinda Bargreen
"Alice Hoffman has crafted an intricately woven tale of doomed lovers and the angels who walk among them that is, to use a publishing blurb, un-put-downable. … You never know exactly where Hoffman’s characters are headed, and that is part of what makes the journey so compelling." Patty Rhule
"The first section contains a number of stylistic infelicities—restating information already given as if it were new, simplistic sentence structure, limited vocabulary, jarring shifts in point of view—which, despite the melodramatic action, give it a perfunctory feel. … If the first section is somewhat heavy going, the second and third sections of The Third Angel amply reward the persevering reader." Ann Harleman
Some readers may dismiss Hoffman as a romance writer, but "so were Flaubert, Proust, the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen," responds the Baltimore Sun. Hoffman’s graceful writing, beautifully drawn characters, and intricate plots raise her work far above typical romance fare. Critics laud her ability to portray flawed humans with heart-wrenching accuracy, as well as her inclusion of her trademark characteristic magical elements—otherworldly bonds, chance meetings, and coincidences that "seem improbable and yet wholly necessary" (Baltimore Sun). The Boston Globe provides the sole voice of dissent, citing a clichéd structure. In the end, notes the Charlotte Observer, "Alice Hoffman reminds readers we are all hurt and broken, stumbling through life and fumbling for love, but sometimes we can still find our way to where we want to go."