The Three of Us by Ore Agbaje-Williams: ‘I expected to live with one woman when I got married. Apparently, I live with two.’

Cover image for The Three of Us by Ore Agbaje-WilliamsIt was its structure that attracted me to Ore Agbaje-Williams’ debut. Set over one day, The Three of Us is told from three points of view: a wife, a husband and the best friend who has known the wife since school. Lots of room there for unreliable narrators and tense relationship dynamics.

She was the complete opposite of me – being moulded in every possible way by my parents, who had written out their expectations in biblical stone tablets the day I was conceived.

The unnamed wife hasn’t seen Temi for a month when she arrives, bottle of wine in hand. It’s midday but the two are soon demolishing the wine, Temi keen to catch up with what the wife has been up to, not least how things are in her marriage. Both women are from high achieving Nigerian families, Temi’s richer than her friend’s, but the wife has chosen not to work disappointing her mother. She’s been married for three years, ambivalent about having children, but her husband has persuaded her it’s time to start a family. When Temi discovers this, she’s appalled. Temi’s motto is ‘By Myself, For Myself, a motto she feels her friend should live by, too. As the day unfolds, the husband makes clear to his wife he wants a quiet night in alone, realising there’s little chance of getting one and unsurprised by Temi’s presence when he returns home from work, stressed and tired. As he joins the two women drinking, he and Temi edge closer and closer to a showdown as the wife anxiously looks on.

Men are instruments, not partners. Their presumed superiority over women throughout history has made them complacent and stopped them from adequately evolving, and so now they are no longer fit for long-term use. 

There’s a good deal of sly humour in the delivery of this story out of which no one comes covered in glory. It begins with the wife’s narrative from which we learn that hers is a pragmatic marriage rather than one based on passion. She’s the child of parents so strict she hardly knew what to do with herself when she went to university but now seems to have handed herself over to her husband who’s wrestling with Temi for her control. Her husband’s narrative is full of frustration at the ever present, sarcastic, judgemental Temi who doesn’t bother to hide her contempt for him or her eagerness to see an end to the marriage, something her own narrative makes clear she’s actively working towards. It’s very funny at times, although if you’re a reader who needs to like characters you might have trouble with this one. A clever debut, niftily handled, whose ending brought me up short.

If you’d like to read another review of The Three of Us, Liz’s is here.

Jonathan Cape: London 9781787334083 208 pages Hardback (read via NetGalley)

15 thoughts on “The Three of Us by Ore Agbaje-Williams: ‘I expected to live with one woman when I got married. Apparently, I live with two.’”

  1. Thank you for linking to my review! I really enjoyed it, I liked the structure and thought the husband’s section in particular was really funny (when we find out why he remodels the whole floor of the house!). I didn’t mind them all being unlikeable as they only affected each other, really, and thought it was very competently done. It was also quite nice to read about middle-class Black British people who have achieved and done well materially.

    1. You’re welcome! I think unlikeable characters are much more interesting. I actually felt sorry for the wife and the sky high expectations of her by her high-achieving parents.

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