In the spring of last year I
went to a party for the presentation of book prize.
There I was introduced to Salley Vickers, who told me
that she had just written a book called Miss Garnet's
Angel. I smiled and nodded as one does on these occasions:
"I hope that you get it published."
"It has been already,"
she answered, "by HarperCollins."
Being the administrator of The Booker Prize, I keep
a close eye on what is happening in serious fiction.
Three days later a copy of Vickers's book turned up.
When I read it, I was swept away. It was quite outstandingly
I persuaded my partner to read
it, and he and his colleagues at John Sandoe Books,
a small independent shop in Chelsea, West London, all
shared my enthusiasm. They took it into stock, and in
a short time it had sold 600 copies. Soon after Hatchards
disposed of 1,500 copies and the word was spreading
Various papers reviewed the
book, and the New Statesman named it Book of the Year.
Within months there was an American edition published,
then the paperback. It became a bestseller by recommendation
rather than marketing.
Many authors find the second
novel that they write much more difficult than the first,
and this is particularly true when the first one has
been a great success. Consequently, those of us who
enjoyed Vickers's first novel were waiting for its successor
with great anticipation. Now, in the shape of Instances
of the number 3 it has arrived.
One of the great pluses of the
first book was the quality of the writing. The Times
reported that: "Vickers writes like a haunted angel".
And this is equally true of her new book. The reader
glides through it effortlessly. The plot is simple,
yet has an amazing amount of narrative power. As in
real life, there is always something behind a particular
character or action that is hinted at rather than crudely
Bridget Hansome is married to
Peter, who is killed in a motor accident early in the
story. She is a dealer in antiques who buys most of
her objects in France. During her absences Peter had
an affair with Frances, who was introduced to him by
a knowing sort of neighbour, Mickey.
Gradually from Peter's death
onwards, Bridget learns the extent of the affair, but
also how determined he was to remain committed to their
marriage. She is initially surprised by this, "but
then she herself, she had often speculated, was no more
than a dramatic construction made up of fleeting feelings,
idle introspections, vain wonderings- glimpses in the
'glass of fashion'."
Bridget and Frances meet and
become uneasy allies. Early in the relationship Bridget
says to her new friend: "A person- I expect you
know this- isn't only flesh and blood. A person exists
inside one, informing one's state of mind. There were
whole weeks that Peter and I were apart - of course,
you know that too! - So my system hasn't got the habit
the difference. I keep expecting to come home and find
him there. And when I don't, when I walk in and everything
is as I left it, my system just thinks: 'Oh well, he'll
be along later, what's all the fuss about?'"
There are many subtle twists
when Zahin, who knew Peter and Frances, turns up at
Bridget's house and infiltrates himself as a lodger,
cleaner and then a much more important character than
had seemed likely.
It is a wonderful thing when
you have made a small contribution to the success of
a book and it takes off in a big way. Inevitably I opened
Instances of the number 3 with some concern that Vickers
would not be able or ready to match the brilliance of
her first book. I need not have worried. The quality
of her second novel confirms that she will have a long
and outstanding career in writing.
Martyn Goff, Play Magazine, The Times, 11-17 August