Everyone needs a loyal friend like Temi.

God help those who have a friend like Temi.

This is the paradox at the heart of The Three of Us, the debut novel by British-Nigerian author Ore Agbaje-Williams. It presents a day in the life of a husband and wife and the wife’s best friend Temi.

It is rich, dazzling and deeply possessive. Be careful. At just 192 pages, The Three of Us is as short and sharp as a cutting knife – perfect for carving out a marriage.

Agbaje-Williams writes in a fluid, conversational style that dissolves paper and ink into sound waves. Set in three acts – I mean seasons — the novel is so theatrical in its structure and directness that by the time you finish reading it, you’ll actually imagine yourself. i heard he (Actually, you can: the audiobook version, narrated by Jake Fairbrother, T’Nia Miller, and Tariye Peterside, makes perfect use of the performance quality of the story.)

Only Temi gets a name in these pages, as if she has already tarnished the identities of the other two. But we hear from them first in a clever sequence that sets the stage for Temi’s disastrous intervention.

In the opening, the wife is excited to see her old friend, who arrives at the English house, full of wine and chips, for the couple’s fancy drinking and gossip. “Sometimes I feel jealous when I listen to his stories,” says the wife. “They’re full of chaos and one-liners and people who seem cartoonish and fictional but somehow real. Every time he tells them – always with a drink in hand – I’m totally blown away.

While Temi delivers her signature tales of encounters with irresistible men, the wife speaks directly to us with a meandering, illuminating confession. We learned that she and Temi were raised by strict Nigerian parents who expected total obedience and impressive academic performance. “Our whole life is described in Excel spreadsheets where they calculate various probabilities and develop a strategy for each of us.” But Temi eventually moved away from these strictures and encouraged her best friend to follow BMFM’s bold philosophy: “For Me, For Me.”

“Being friends with Temi was like someone lifting the lid on my sheltered life and offering a hand to get me out,” says the wife. “Until Temi, I didn’t know it was possible to decide anything for myself.”

But how free the wife is now remains a point of some friendly disagreement. Convinced that men are useless or worse, Temi cannot understand why her friend got married three years ago and changed a prison – where she lives at home with her parents – for another prison. “This guy doesn’t fit into our plans,” Temi complains.

But the union makes perfect sense to the young wife. “My husband and I bond because he doesn’t expect anything from me,” she says. “I love him because he loves me without asking.”

As in this sly novel, that’s not entirely true. A discord lingers in this marriage, like a fabric buried under the skin. The husband wants and waits very much to have a child. “I don’t want children,” the wife admits. “But over time, my husband convinced me – or I let him, and I had a recent (and very disturbing) conversation with his mother, who is nice, but strongly believes that the world revolves around her son – that we should at least think about it for a child. try it.”

“It’s a controversial topic,” he adds, “child’s work.” But there is one thing: this is a controversial topic With the themewho assumed that he had an important role in his friend’s marriage.

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In the second part of the novel, we hear directly from the husband, and it may come as no surprise that he takes issue with Temi’s frequent presence at home and its effect on his wife. “When I got married, I expected to live with a woman,” he sighs. “Looks like I live with two people.” In fact, his entire monologue is a series of expletives compressed under such pressure and heat that they become tiny diamonds of adamantine hatred. There’s something equally horrifying and hilarious about watching him struggle to control his anger at this woman who drinks him, interrupts his evenings, and dismisses him as the “human equivalent of a Bitch pen.” He knows he shouldn’t let Temi get the best of him, but he can’t help it, and Agbaje-Williams follows his anger in a great spiral of rage.

This trois comedy moves so quickly and with such sly wit that it’s easy to overlook how the novel pokes fun at issues of class and race. As wealthy Nigerians living in England, these three expats live suspended between the suspicions of their white neighbors and the expectations of their African families. For the wife, in particular, this position increases the feeling of anxiety.

Towards the end of The Three of Us, there is a reference to Romeo and Juliet, but Othello is a more appropriate allusion. If Temi isn’t as bad as Yago, she certainly spares no effort to poison her friend’s marriage. However, The Three of Us is not a tragedy. Not only is Agbaje-Williams very witty for something so heavy, but each of these characters bears some responsibility for their own dire awkwardness. The wife admits this when she says: “When the insults become more acute and personal, it’s strange and often uncomfortable. But it’s also fun. I like to say almost nothing, see where it goes.”

It’s a stupid risk for him; it’s fun for us. The final section—a monologue of what Temi calls “unfiltered honesty”—is more devastating than anything the wife could have imagined and more deliciously evil than anything we expected.

You might not want a friend like Temi, but keep a copy of The Three of Us handy. This is the perfect bridal shower gift for a special crush.

Ron Charles reviews and writes books Book Club newsletter For the Washington Post.

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