Third Angel

Reading Guide

Three women linked over time by love and redemption. Three weddings riddled with secrecy and betrayal. Three generations wounded by heartbreak and loss. Traveling backward through time, The Third Angel moves from modern-day London where Maddy Heller seduces her sister’s fiancé, to the wild days of the ‘60s where Frieda Lewis falls for a musician with in search of a muse, and finally to the buttoned-down ’50s where Bryn Evans can’t give up her complicated ex-husband. At the center of this intricate web is Lucy Green, who as a 12-year-old girl witnesses a tragic lover’s quarrel in a London hotel. Already rocked by the death of her mother, Lucy withdraws into books and dreams. If love inevitably leads to pain and sorrow, why go on? Only by discovering the Third Angel, an angel in disguise on Earth, can each of the characters embrace the transforming nature of love. With this beautifully wrought and elegant novel, Alice Hoffman once again tells an unforgettable story of love and faith.

1. At the beginning of “The Heron’s Wife,” Maddy is the reckless loner and Allie is the perfectionist who does what’s expected of her. How did their mother’s battle with cancer in their childhood shape their characters? Do you see Maddy as the weak one and Allie as the strong one? Are there ways in which Maddy is stronger than Allie?
2. Why is Maddy so quick to betray her sister? Do you believe that she’s in love with Paul? Or does Maddy commit an act of revenge and why?
3. When Allie explains her relationship with Paul, she says she’s not a person who leaves in the midst of a crisis. How do you feel about Allie’s decision to marry Paul? Could she stand by him without marrying him? Why is loyalty so important to her?
4. What does the blue heron represent? Who is the heron for each sister and does that change by the end of their story?
5. The Lion Park Hotel in 1966 is a place that offers “privacy at all costs, no questions asked and none answered; secrecy even among friends” [p. 153]. What words do you associate with privacy? What sort of guests are looking for “privacy at all costs”?
6. When Frieda goes on a house call with her father to Jenny Foley’s house, she is not afraid to see the corpse of Jenny’s husband. “It was only a body. If anything, it was the dead man’s wife she was afraid of, all those tears, all that emotion [p. 132].” Why is it the widow’s grief that affects Frieda so profoundly?
7. Frieda moves to London and takes a job as a maid largely as a rebuke to her father. How does Frieda’s view of her parents change over the course of her relationship with Jamie? Does Frieda truly love Jamie or does she love feeling needed? Why does she return to the life that she previously rejected? Is Frieda’s marriage to Bill a birdcage or does it free her? Who do you think Jamie truly loved?
8. The third section of the novel is called “The Rules of Love.” What are the rules? Should the basis for marriage be romantic love? Can the love between parent and child or between siblings be equally profound? Based on the pairings in the book, do you think love is complicated or simple?
9. At the beginning of “The Rules of Love,” Lucy is reading Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Later, she buys Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. What is the significance of these books and how do they reflect her emotional landscape?
10. The ghost continues to haunt Teddy and the hotel for four more decades, until Lucy returns. Why does Teddy need Lucy in order to vanquish his ghost? Have you ever been haunted by an action that you later regretted? What is the novel’s message about betrayal and forgiveness?
11. The story starts in the present and moves backward in time. Why do you think the author chose to structure the novel this way? Would the book have been as satisfying if it had been written in chronological order?
12. Doctor Lewis wears two watches. Lucy drops her watch in the water. Characters are noted for their punctuality or lateness. Why is time such a central preoccupation? What are the various ways in which characters escape time? What is the relationship between time and love?
13. Though set in the city of London, parks and gardens are described in vivid detail. What role does nature play for the characters? Discuss the symbolism of the white roses in “The Heron’s Wife,” yellow foliage in “Lion Park,” and the white rabbits in “The Rules of Love.”
14. Many of the characters lose loved ones to illness, particularly cancer. Think about the cycle of love, secrecy, and betrayal. How do illness and cancer serve as metaphors?
15. “You think you’re doing him a kindness,” says Frieda as she explains the concept of the Third Angel. “You think you’re the one taking caring of him, while all the while, he’s the one who’s saving your life [95].” Which characters meet their Third Angel and how are they transformed? Are there examples in your own life where an act of kindness reaffirmed your faith in people?