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by Salley Vickers

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-374-17702-3
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Wise and wryly tender tale in which a dead man’s divided affections lead to unexpected revelations—and alliances—as the women he loved learn to live without him.

Low-key and refreshingly unponderous meditations on the number 3, Purgatory, and forgiveness give Vickers’s already intelligent story appealing heft. Peter Handsome is in his early 60s when he’s killed in a London traffic accident. Wife Bridget, an antiques dealer who escaped her abusive father in Ireland as soon as she could, has since school found consolation in reading Shakespeare, especially Hamlet, to which she now turns as she grapples with sorrow. Her grieving is further complicated by a telephone call from Peter’s not-entirely-unsuspected mistress, 40ish Frances Slater, who works in an art gallery. The two women meet (“It seems discourteous, somehow, to Peter if we don’t meet, though I hardly know how we should conduct ourselves,” observes Bridget) and begin a fraught but surprisingly resilient friendship. They are soon joined by the good-looking Iranian boy called Zahin, who Peter once helped and who now claims to be studying engineering though he seems more interested in keeping house. As the three uneasily connect, a ghostly Peter keeps his eye on Frances and Bridget. This could be hokey, but on balance it works, as Peter recalls his past and his search for the perfect woman, which led him to an ultimately fatal relationship with Iranian prostitute Zelda. While Peter learns the redemptive ways of Purgatory, Bridget begins to make a new life, as does Zahin after certain confessions, and Frances also finds surprising new happiness.

Not as surefooted as Vickers’s delightful Miss Garnet’s Angel (2001), but still a deliciously urbane and affecting love story with an intriguing difference.