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The Three of Us

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Best Book of the Year
Time • Real Simple • Oprah Daily

A Belletrist Book Club Pick

"As short and sharp as a pairing knife . . . Moves along so briskly and with such sly wit . . . Deliciously wicked." —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Long-standing tensions between a husband, his wife, and her best friend finally come to a breaking point in this sharp domestic comedy of manners, told brilliantly over the course of one day.


What if your two favorite people hated each other with a passion?

The wife has it all. A big house in a nice neighborhood, a ride-or-die snarky best friend, Temi, with whom to laugh about facile men, and a devoted husband who loves her above all else—even his distaste for Temi.

On a seemingly normal day, Temi comes over to spend a lazy afternoon with the wife: drinking wine, eating snacks, and laughing caustically about the husband's shortcomings. But when the husband comes home and a series of confessions are made, the wife's two confidants are suddenly forced to jockey for their positions, throwing everyone's integrity into question—and their long-drawn-out territorial dance, carefully constructed over years, into utter chaos. 

Told in three taut, mesmerizing parts—the wife, the husband, the best friend—over the course of one day, The Three of Us is a subversively comical, wildly astute, and painfully compulsive triptych of domestic life that explores cultural truths, what it means to defy them, and the fine line between compromise and betrayal when it comes to ourselves and the people we're meant to love.
ONE

Temi comes over at twelve. She brings along the wine and the Kettle Chips I asked her to bring, as well as a packet of cigarettes. She called when she was at the till to ask if I needed a lighter, because the woman who was serving her had asked the same question. I could tell she had the phone in between her shoulder and her chin because I could hear her coat rustling. I said no to the lighter, because we had matches at home, but also because I knew I wouldn't end up smoking, not if my husband would be able to smell it on me.

She was late, I knew she would be. She told me she would get here by eleven but it was eleven forty-five when she called me from the shop. I knew she would be late before that, though, because she always is. It's her thing. She's the only person I let come to anything late. That's what happens when you're best friends. You let things slide. Besides, today we were supposed to have been in another country, acting like we didn't speak English and wearing sunglasses indoors, and it's my fault we're not-something that she reminded me of when she informed me this morning that she would be coming over. I haven't seen her in almost a month, so I can't really justify complaining. So anyway, she arrives at twelve. She gets out of the car mid-story, like she'd started telling it the moment she saw me approaching from the front door and just thought I'd pick up what I'd missed as she told the rest of it. She was talking about someone, I didn't know who.

It was someone who'd been sending her links to cat videos on YouTube. She said she didn't even know people still watched cat videos on YouTube, and I agreed, I thought we'd moved on to TikTok and Instagram for stuff like that. Anyway, she continued, I asked him to stop. I said, When have you ever known me to be a cat person? By then we've moved into the house, hugged, and she's kicked off her shoes at the front door. We go to the kitchen and open the wine, and she does what she usually does, downs one glass first and then slowly sips the next. I don't ask if she is planning to sober up and drive home later because I assume she'll be leaving her car and calling an Uber like she always does.

He said he thought the videos were funny, that I would like them because they're funny videos, that I don't need to like cats in order to enjoy them. I eat the Kettle Chips as she talks, letting them soften a little on my tongue before I chew them because the crunch will get in the way of me hearing what Temi is saying, and she hates repeating herself. I know that. I watched the videos, she says. They're quite funny. And since we won't be doing como se dice I'm seeing him on Tuesday. I have to clarify which person this is. She's seeing a few different guys and she gives them nicknames rather than calling them by their real names. If I tell you their names you'll get attached, she says. There's No Homo, who at dinner complimented a waiter's cuff links and followed it by saying No Homo and then laughing, by himself, but who Temi finds funny even though she is laughing at him and not with him. Then there's TTM (Talks Too Much), the one who provides sad and lengthy monologues whenever Temi asks him a simple question like, Where's your shirt from? or Would you like to share a starter? She only went out with him twice. After things fizzled out she messaged him to ask the name of the restaurant they'd been to and he sent her four paragraphs. So now they text platonically and she sends me the screenshots. Maybe we'll read through the new ones later. There's also Woman, so called because she discovered that's how he referred to her among his friends. She was tricked into meeting them on their second date when he invited her to have a picnic in the park but neglected to mention that his friends and family would be there. It was his birthday party.

This one, though, she's not told me about before-or at least I don't remember him. I did, she says when I tell her he doesn't ring a bell. She uses her arm to demonstrate how tall he is (about a foot taller than she is apparently) and puts her hand between her legs and knocks her knees together, hops from foot to foot. Oh. It all comes back to me. Desperate for the Loo? Yes! See, I knew you'd remember. She swivels the packet of crisps toward herself. Now, I don't think he's boyfriend material, which is a problem, because of course I have the weddings coming up, so I need to keep him within striking distance, you know? I nod, take a large swig of wine, and try the wine-tasting thing my husband was showing me on his phone the other day. Speaking of which, Temi says, where's yours?

///

I met Temi when I was eleven. We were at the same secondary school, although by year ten she'd moved up a year, that's how intelligent she is. We both had the big rucksacks, the fresh braids with no color because our school was strict about that, even though the white girls who went to the Caribbean on their summer holidays were allowed a single limp braid with colored thread in it.

Temi accidentally bumped into me when we were getting changed after PE, and my deodorant slipped out of my hand and onto the floor. I picked it up and there was hair and some other unknown material stuck to it. It was organic because my mother had recently read about the link between deodorant and cancer somewhere and made my sisters and me throw away our old ones. The organic ones cost seven pounds each and I knew she'd be angry if I came home and told her it was ruined. Temi grimaced as she peered over my shoulder to see what she'd done. Sorry yeah, she said, maybe just rinse it in the sink and it will come off? Even though it was an idiotic solution (because I was never going to let anything that had touched the floor anywhere near my body again), I appreciated the attempt at one, and said thanks. I was the last to leave the changing room because I wanted to sniff my armpits in peace to see what the damage was and she came back in to look for something just as I was doing it. She laughed and fished a spray deodorant out of her rucksack and held it out to me. It was the first time someone persuaded me to do something I had been told was wrong. Obviously that was the most innocent "bad" thing I could have done at that age. But when you have the fear of your mother guiding you, there isn't a lot you're willing to do in the first place. After that we very naturally became friends. We ate lunch together, texted each other every day with the little credit we were allowed, studied for tests and exams together, and even our mothers became friends in a way, trading tips for how to talk your way out of a parking ticket and cursing about our fathers in Yoruba when they thought we couldn't understand. There are a few years between my sisters and me, and we have never been close. But Temi and me, we spent a lot of time together during those years, and we've been best friends ever since.

She is probably the only person in my life who has never wanted something from me, only for me.

///

I turn to the cupboards to get a bowl and pour half of the Kettle Chips into it. He's where you think he is, I say, and she rolls her eyes. That man is a workaholic, I'm telling you. I did tell you. He never takes a day off. It's always work, work, work. You know you're in a throuple, right? she says. A what? I ask. A throuple, she repeats, annoyed. It's when three people are in a relationship together. In your case, the third person is his job. I've never met anyone who works as much as he does. When's the last time he took a day off? What was the point of canceling our holiday if he was just going to be at work the whole time? I thought you said he wanted you guys to spend more time together? And yet the other day didn't you tell me he's been coming home past eight most days? It's both impressive and terrifying I thought I worked hard-she scoffs-I thought you worked hard to pretend to remain interested in him, but this man, this man is truly something special. How does he expect to make a baby with you if he's never at home? I take a large gulp of my wine and swish it around in my cheeks like it's Listerine. It's a contentious subject, the baby thing. When I told her we were going to start trying for one she thought I was having some kind of crisis. Then she disappeared to Lagos for a month and I took that as a sign she didn't want to talk about it anymore.

The truth is that I don't want children. Or I have never actively considered the reality of having them. I am not maternal, and I am unconvinced that I've witnessed parenting that is good enough to replicate. I can even admit that I'm a little selfish. I like to remain in control, and children-babies-do not allow for that. But over time my husband has convinced me-or I've let him, and a recent (and deeply uncomfortable) conversation with his mother, who is nice but very much believes that the world revolves around her son-that we should at least try for one child. I'd sat across from her in her house and listened to her explain that it is our duty as children to continue the family line, the family name, by building our own and honoring our parents with grandchildren. That my desire to wait was self-serving, and that I should remember that it's not all about me. She used her eyes to guide my gaze toward my husband, then back to herself, and said to me, Your parents must have told you this now? I looked again at my husband-who was in silent but clear agreement with his mother-then at my mother-in-law, and nodded slowly. She nodded back, and that was the end of the discussion. Now whenever she sees me, not pregnant, she frowns.

Temi and I used to argue with other people about how children are the worst kind of pollution, that really if we wanted to help the planet we should kill half of the population, then ourselves, and use the remains as compost for planting trees. That was after watching a strangely intense documentary in geography, but even though the mass-suicide idea faded away, the no-children sentiment remained-sort of. Yet one brief conversation with my mother-in-law, during which I could see my husband daydreaming about holding a baby as I lay sweating in a hospital bed, later, I was apparently trying for a baby. I stopped taking birth control. I was swallowing daily vitamins and avoiding drinking coffee. I was weirdly proud of myself for it, even though the period pains I've experienced in the last three months have been more than any human should bear. But amidst all this, my husband got promoted-yay for him and everything-and now he's just never home, ever. It's difficult to have a baby with someone who is never around. I mostly only see him in the middle of the night, when I get up to snack or wee.

This morning we craned our necks over the sink to look as only one line appeared on the test. I went to pick it up and he stopped my hand by holding his in the way. It says you need to wait at least fifteen minutes, he said. I'm aware-it's been almost seven. So then we need to wait the next eight minutes out. You're going to be late, and another line won't show up in eight minutes. He looked at me for a second, then looked back to the test, like he was about to miss the miraculous arrival of the line. Why are you so sure? Because this is the sixth test I've taken in three months and nothing ever changes after the first three minutes. He pinched the bottom of his nose and left the room, then I heard the front door open and close. I waited a minute-for him to come back and say he'd left his phone or his car keys-and lifted the test and squinted at it. Then I pressed the pedal on the bin, dropped the test inside, and washed my hands.

I'm not even convinced he still wants kids, I eventually respond to Temi, who has been watching me. Look, sis, she says, leaning over the kitchen counter to touch my arm, you've never wanted them anyway. I say bin the whole thing and get an IUD. I laugh because she does and then she takes her hand away, swallows a large amount of wine lifts her glass of wine off the counter, stands up. Anyway, baby talk is boring. She walks out of the kitchen and into the hallway, then comes back for the bag of crisps. How's the remodel going?

We've been remodeling the upstairs bathrooms and library for the last year. I don't mean just redecorating, I mean changing the whole shape and structure. They were perfectly fine before-even my mother, who is notoriously judgmental of anything I do that has not required her input, said our home was a "nice" place. And yet last year my husband decided that he wanted to rip the whole thing apart. He didn't explain why exactly, but he was adamant about it. I tend not to be concerned about these things, and I didn't think it would take very long. But we've been remodeling the same three rooms for a year now and we've had to use the downstairs bathroom for the entire time. I know I sound spoiled. Oh, we have three bathrooms and I have to use the downstairs one, but we have a lot of stairs, and it's a long way to travel for a shower or a poo.
 
I take Temi upstairs and point at the large drawings pinned to the walls in each room, the paint samples dotted around and the thermos in the corner of the bathroom that has been there for a year because one of the contractors we tried out left it behind. I lead her into the library where the floor is covered with something like a see-through tarpaulin and it makes an irritating noise as we walk across it to get to the window that’s just been installed. You didn’t win on the window huh? Temi asks. I shake my head no and look at it again. It’s one large single window that goes across the entire back wall of the library. It’s the only thing that my husband has decided on and not changed his mind about in the past year. We actually argued about it – and normally I wouldn’t have cared – but the idea of the window was so garish to me, I don’t know why anyone would need a whole wall as a window. He said that it was elegant and stylish, and I said it would make the room cold. He said we had heated flooring and I said we shouldn’t be spending extra money on heating every month to heat a room that is cold because of a wall-sized window. His response was to smile and say, I don’t think we’re really people who need to be concerned about money, are we? Eventually, I realised that I didn’t care enough to press the issue, and let him have it.

Now you need a maid, Temi says as we look below us at the half-done patio. Why? I ask. Because then we would have hot chocolates to warm us in this bloody freezing room.

///

Temi wouldn’t call herself rich but she is. Her father works for an oil company and her mother is a GP. Then of course her mother’s father is one of the largest shareholders at the company where her father works. Her father earned the job he has though – she made a point of telling me that when she explained that she was not rich, even though she is. The first time I went to her house, the maid, who was white English and wearing one of those black and white uniforms that I haven’t seen on anyone else since I watched Princess Diaries II, said "Hello, Miss" and took my coat at the door and then asked what I wanted to eat and drink. She stood and waited for my answer, but the uniform looked so comical, and the house girls I’d seen in Nigeria wore their own clothes, so I thought it was some kind of weird joke, and eventually Temi answered for both of us. Then there’s the actual house – it’s big, like big-big, and has a garden the size of three tennis courts. At the time I didn’t even know houses like that existed – I do now, because I live in one – but back then I had to subtly pop my eyes back inside my head and pretend it was perfectly normal.

It wasn’t like a show-home either, where everything looks like no one lives there and the furniture is being rented by the hour. They had ‘family’ photos, a disproportionate number of which only featured Temi’s two older brothers, there were board games in the living room and a half-finished jigsaw puzzle on one of the large dining tables. They had a fridge with photos and wedding invitations on it, messages written with those magnet letters no one really has anymore. They even had a chalk board wall where someone had written ‘house shopping list’, in a beautiful cursive. Temi showed me her room, with its posters and bookshelves, and clothes all over the floor. She showed me her parents’ separate studies, the reading room that had been converted from a guest room, then she took me into the kitchen where the maid had prepared two hot chocolates and grilled cheese sandwiches, each with a small side salad.
One of Lit Hub’s Most Anticipated Books of 2023
One of NYLON’s Most Anticipated Books of 2023
One of ELLE’s Best New Books for Summer
One of TIME's Best Books of May 2023
One of PopSugar’s Best New Books of 2023
One of The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Best New Books of May
One of New York Post’s Best New Books
One of AFAR’s Best Books for Summer

"Switching points of view among the three, this debut is viciously funny, different than anything you’ve read lately, and at the same time, strangely relatable." —Oprah Daily

"A dark, funny tale that tackles an uncomfortably familiar question: what happens if your partner and your best friend cannot stand each other?" —The Guardian
 
"Two's company, three's a crowd—and what a crowd they are, in this smart, sly novel by Ore Agbaje-Williams." —CBS Sunday Morning

"A beach read that promises tea and tension. . . . Ore Agbaje-Williams gifts us a comedic domestic drama about the bitter tension between a husband, his wife, and her best friend. . . . A thrilling spectacle ensues throughout the course of a single day." –The Good Men Project

"Layered and brimming with subtext and sharp observations about money, gender, patriarchy and complicity, this story subverts the love triangle trope by introducing something more akin to a hate triangle. . . . A wicked ride." —Electric Lit

"Switching points of view among the three, this debut is viciously funny, different than anything you’ve read lately, and at the same time, strangely relatable." —Oprah Daily

"As short and sharp as a pairing knife . . . Agbaje-Williams writes in a fluid, conversational style that dissolves paper and ink into sound waves. . . . The novel is so theatrical in its structure and immediacy that the moment you finish reading it, you’ll imagine you actually heard it. . . . This comédie à trois moves along so briskly and with such sly wit that it’s easy to overlook how the novel teases issues of class and race. . . . Deliciously wicked." —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"The Three of Us toes the tightrope between concession and deception as Agbaje-Williams executes surprise twists in a narrative that’s drenched in wine.” —TIME

"In this sharp, taut, dark comedy that takes place over the course of one fateful day, the simmering tensions between a husband, a wife, and her best friend come to a boiling point. It’s a tense read that will have you glued to your beach chair!” —Jenny Jackson, author of Pineapple Street, for GMA.com

"Cleverly told in three parts, from each character’s point of view, The Three of Us will give its readers lots to talk about over brunch." —Real Simple

"[A] knockout debut novel about the hazards and self-destructive nature of spousal compromise. . . Fine details [suffuse] love and life into a hilarious, clever and incisive narrative of admirable and ugly truths . . . . [A] simmering tempest of clashing expectations, values and desires." —Shelf Awareness

"A biting comedy of manners with a delightfully simple, but incredibly fertile, premise . . . . Over three acts, as the thin walls of tact and civility begin to erode, all manner of scabrously hilarious confessions and accusations burst through.” Lit Hub

"Taking place over the course of a single day, this bold, sharp debut novel explores the intrigue of the ménage à trois in a comedy of manners about the tensions between a husband, his wife, and her best friend.” –NYLON

"This fast-paced and comedic novel is a thought-provoking exploration of cultural truths, defiance, and the complexity of love and betrayal.” —SheReads

"Well crafted…A tightly constructed debut novel." —NPR.org

"In this slim, clever novel, everything goes down over the course of boozy afternoon." —GMA.com

"In Ore Agbaje-Williams' bitterly funny novel, a friend disrupts a volatile marriage. . . . Incisive." —Minneapolis Star Tribune

"[A] splashy debut…This humorous, subversive novel explores cultural truths exemplified in the minutiae of domestic life—the daily happenings that, when put together, can have massive consequences regarding betrayal, loyalty and love." —W Magazine

"[An] introspective journey of one of the most complex love triangles one may ever have: between a wife and her husband and best friend. . . . Suffice it to say, it's one wild, funny ride." —Scary Mommy

"Agbaje-Williams’ dark wit and wry observations keep it all interesting. She slowly and slyly builds the tension between her three characters until it fairly sparks off the page….At fewer than 200 pages, The Three of Us makes for a quick and thought-provoking read that can elicit a cringe one minute and rueful laughter the next. The tightly wound plot drops a few revelations along the way, calling into question what the characters—and the reader—think they know. When two people vie for the attention of a third, who will win? How far will each go? Agbaje-Williams keeps readers wondering until the end." —BookPage (starred review)

"[A] striking, often wickedly funny debut . . . Agbaje-Williams brilliantly captures the inner monologue as well as the conversational style of each of the three through which their whole cultural milieu takes shape around them . . . . An original and potent comedy of manners with an ingenious final twist." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Wonderfully witty. . . The precarious détente between a wife, her husband, and her best friend blows up over the course of one fateful, wine-fueled day. . . . This wry comedy of manners unfolds in a trio of engagingly self-absorbed, revealingly unreliable first person narratives. Agbaje-Williams sharply renders each character’s unique voice, building depth and tension as the story is told and retold." —Booklist

"In rich, raw, often hilarious detail. . . Agbaje-Williams brilliantly captures the toxic dynamics of an emotional train wreck that inevitably comes from the imbalance of a fragile marriage threatened by the presence of a conniving third party." —Library Journal

"[An] intoxicating debut...It’s delicious to watch the characters’ long-fermenting tensions come to the fore. It lands as a discerning debut from an author who knows a thing or two (or three) about the ever-shifting dynamics of intimacy." –Publishers Weekly

“Devouring this bold, brilliant satire was refreshing and confronting and completely entertaining. So much is achieved in Agbaje-Williams’ writing: the nuances that make even our closest relationships uncomfortable, the tension of a shifting perspective, the anarchy provoked by a single cunning comment. Beguiling and cutting and admirable—I loved it.” —Ashley Audrain, author of The Push

"A taut study of three people, exploring with the lightest of touches how being the child of immigrants affects one’s thinking about gender roles, personal and professional ambition, human intimacy, and much more. The Three of Us is a cunning (and often very funny) book, a wily and promising debut.” —Rumaan Alam, author of Leave The World Behind

The Three of Us is explosive. . . . What rocked me was the naked examination of that coveted construct we call innocence. . . . How easily it's weaponized and made indistinguishable from guilt; and how the people who are honest about this are the only ones with a real chance at wellness and wholeness. The Three of Us read, wrote, and erased me. Then, it gave me back to myself, giggling and nodding my head. What a keen mind this story comes from. What a calm power this story holds.” —Robert Jones, Jr., author of The Prophets

"An astute, composed, and quietly hilarious observation of identity, marriage, and friendship from a unique storyteller." —Diana Evans, author of Ordinary People

"Both wickedly entertaining and thought-provoking. I couldn't stop turning the page!" —Lizzie Damilola Blackburn, author of Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?

"Three soliloquists audition to be the main character, each with certain claims, certain gripes. As Agbaje-Williams’s trio depart from their hinges, her own grip on events holds tight. With deft plotting, mature control of voice and a wicked enjoyment of perspective, The Three of Us is well-marshalled and full of fun." —Naoise Dolan, author of Exciting Times

"A sharp, humorous, superbly entertaining novel exploring Black love and relationships and the conflicts and tensions that arise from jealousy, desire, control, and cultural expectations. Agbaje-Williams' cultural references and evocation of the contemporary world within which Black couples build relationships is insightful and impressive." —Jacqueline Crooks, author of Fire Rush

"Sharp, astute and wickedly funny—Ore Agbaje-Williams’ sharp wit and perfectly realized protagonists make for a taut, darkly comic read that packs a serious punch." —Yomi Adegoke, author of Slay in Your Lane and The List

"Unique and completely captivating, The Three of Us absorbed me. When I finished I wanted to go back and read it from the beginning again.” —Annie Lord, author of Notes on Heartbreak

"Funny, fresh, and full of drama. Not a word goes to waste in this extraordinary debut." —Sophie Irwin, author of A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting

"A treat of a debut. Agbaje-Williams has a gift of gliding between the sharpest driest humor and damning emotional revelations to incisively expose the vulnerabilities, fallacies, and messiness that line the relationships with those we are closest to. Dazzling, dextrous, and droll, this millennial noir is a taut exploration of culture and the politics of relationships."Bolu Babalola, author of Love in Colour
 
“I’m obsessed. This is a masterful, at times familiar and relatable, yet ultimately disturbing portrayal of a friendship. Constantly surprising, often dark, and at times sinister, it is without fail always entertaining and funny.”Claire Kohda, author of Woman, Eating
© Jedidah M
ORE AGBAJE-WILLIAMS is a British-Nigerian author and an acquiring editor at Borough Press. She wrote her debut novel The Three of Us during lockdown, and currently lives in London, England.
  View titles by Ore Agbaje-Williams
Discussion Guide for The Three of Us

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About

Best Book of the Year
Time • Real Simple • Oprah Daily

A Belletrist Book Club Pick

"As short and sharp as a pairing knife . . . Moves along so briskly and with such sly wit . . . Deliciously wicked." —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Long-standing tensions between a husband, his wife, and her best friend finally come to a breaking point in this sharp domestic comedy of manners, told brilliantly over the course of one day.


What if your two favorite people hated each other with a passion?

The wife has it all. A big house in a nice neighborhood, a ride-or-die snarky best friend, Temi, with whom to laugh about facile men, and a devoted husband who loves her above all else—even his distaste for Temi.

On a seemingly normal day, Temi comes over to spend a lazy afternoon with the wife: drinking wine, eating snacks, and laughing caustically about the husband's shortcomings. But when the husband comes home and a series of confessions are made, the wife's two confidants are suddenly forced to jockey for their positions, throwing everyone's integrity into question—and their long-drawn-out territorial dance, carefully constructed over years, into utter chaos. 

Told in three taut, mesmerizing parts—the wife, the husband, the best friend—over the course of one day, The Three of Us is a subversively comical, wildly astute, and painfully compulsive triptych of domestic life that explores cultural truths, what it means to defy them, and the fine line between compromise and betrayal when it comes to ourselves and the people we're meant to love.

Excerpt

ONE

Temi comes over at twelve. She brings along the wine and the Kettle Chips I asked her to bring, as well as a packet of cigarettes. She called when she was at the till to ask if I needed a lighter, because the woman who was serving her had asked the same question. I could tell she had the phone in between her shoulder and her chin because I could hear her coat rustling. I said no to the lighter, because we had matches at home, but also because I knew I wouldn't end up smoking, not if my husband would be able to smell it on me.

She was late, I knew she would be. She told me she would get here by eleven but it was eleven forty-five when she called me from the shop. I knew she would be late before that, though, because she always is. It's her thing. She's the only person I let come to anything late. That's what happens when you're best friends. You let things slide. Besides, today we were supposed to have been in another country, acting like we didn't speak English and wearing sunglasses indoors, and it's my fault we're not-something that she reminded me of when she informed me this morning that she would be coming over. I haven't seen her in almost a month, so I can't really justify complaining. So anyway, she arrives at twelve. She gets out of the car mid-story, like she'd started telling it the moment she saw me approaching from the front door and just thought I'd pick up what I'd missed as she told the rest of it. She was talking about someone, I didn't know who.

It was someone who'd been sending her links to cat videos on YouTube. She said she didn't even know people still watched cat videos on YouTube, and I agreed, I thought we'd moved on to TikTok and Instagram for stuff like that. Anyway, she continued, I asked him to stop. I said, When have you ever known me to be a cat person? By then we've moved into the house, hugged, and she's kicked off her shoes at the front door. We go to the kitchen and open the wine, and she does what she usually does, downs one glass first and then slowly sips the next. I don't ask if she is planning to sober up and drive home later because I assume she'll be leaving her car and calling an Uber like she always does.

He said he thought the videos were funny, that I would like them because they're funny videos, that I don't need to like cats in order to enjoy them. I eat the Kettle Chips as she talks, letting them soften a little on my tongue before I chew them because the crunch will get in the way of me hearing what Temi is saying, and she hates repeating herself. I know that. I watched the videos, she says. They're quite funny. And since we won't be doing como se dice I'm seeing him on Tuesday. I have to clarify which person this is. She's seeing a few different guys and she gives them nicknames rather than calling them by their real names. If I tell you their names you'll get attached, she says. There's No Homo, who at dinner complimented a waiter's cuff links and followed it by saying No Homo and then laughing, by himself, but who Temi finds funny even though she is laughing at him and not with him. Then there's TTM (Talks Too Much), the one who provides sad and lengthy monologues whenever Temi asks him a simple question like, Where's your shirt from? or Would you like to share a starter? She only went out with him twice. After things fizzled out she messaged him to ask the name of the restaurant they'd been to and he sent her four paragraphs. So now they text platonically and she sends me the screenshots. Maybe we'll read through the new ones later. There's also Woman, so called because she discovered that's how he referred to her among his friends. She was tricked into meeting them on their second date when he invited her to have a picnic in the park but neglected to mention that his friends and family would be there. It was his birthday party.

This one, though, she's not told me about before-or at least I don't remember him. I did, she says when I tell her he doesn't ring a bell. She uses her arm to demonstrate how tall he is (about a foot taller than she is apparently) and puts her hand between her legs and knocks her knees together, hops from foot to foot. Oh. It all comes back to me. Desperate for the Loo? Yes! See, I knew you'd remember. She swivels the packet of crisps toward herself. Now, I don't think he's boyfriend material, which is a problem, because of course I have the weddings coming up, so I need to keep him within striking distance, you know? I nod, take a large swig of wine, and try the wine-tasting thing my husband was showing me on his phone the other day. Speaking of which, Temi says, where's yours?

///

I met Temi when I was eleven. We were at the same secondary school, although by year ten she'd moved up a year, that's how intelligent she is. We both had the big rucksacks, the fresh braids with no color because our school was strict about that, even though the white girls who went to the Caribbean on their summer holidays were allowed a single limp braid with colored thread in it.

Temi accidentally bumped into me when we were getting changed after PE, and my deodorant slipped out of my hand and onto the floor. I picked it up and there was hair and some other unknown material stuck to it. It was organic because my mother had recently read about the link between deodorant and cancer somewhere and made my sisters and me throw away our old ones. The organic ones cost seven pounds each and I knew she'd be angry if I came home and told her it was ruined. Temi grimaced as she peered over my shoulder to see what she'd done. Sorry yeah, she said, maybe just rinse it in the sink and it will come off? Even though it was an idiotic solution (because I was never going to let anything that had touched the floor anywhere near my body again), I appreciated the attempt at one, and said thanks. I was the last to leave the changing room because I wanted to sniff my armpits in peace to see what the damage was and she came back in to look for something just as I was doing it. She laughed and fished a spray deodorant out of her rucksack and held it out to me. It was the first time someone persuaded me to do something I had been told was wrong. Obviously that was the most innocent "bad" thing I could have done at that age. But when you have the fear of your mother guiding you, there isn't a lot you're willing to do in the first place. After that we very naturally became friends. We ate lunch together, texted each other every day with the little credit we were allowed, studied for tests and exams together, and even our mothers became friends in a way, trading tips for how to talk your way out of a parking ticket and cursing about our fathers in Yoruba when they thought we couldn't understand. There are a few years between my sisters and me, and we have never been close. But Temi and me, we spent a lot of time together during those years, and we've been best friends ever since.

She is probably the only person in my life who has never wanted something from me, only for me.

///

I turn to the cupboards to get a bowl and pour half of the Kettle Chips into it. He's where you think he is, I say, and she rolls her eyes. That man is a workaholic, I'm telling you. I did tell you. He never takes a day off. It's always work, work, work. You know you're in a throuple, right? she says. A what? I ask. A throuple, she repeats, annoyed. It's when three people are in a relationship together. In your case, the third person is his job. I've never met anyone who works as much as he does. When's the last time he took a day off? What was the point of canceling our holiday if he was just going to be at work the whole time? I thought you said he wanted you guys to spend more time together? And yet the other day didn't you tell me he's been coming home past eight most days? It's both impressive and terrifying I thought I worked hard-she scoffs-I thought you worked hard to pretend to remain interested in him, but this man, this man is truly something special. How does he expect to make a baby with you if he's never at home? I take a large gulp of my wine and swish it around in my cheeks like it's Listerine. It's a contentious subject, the baby thing. When I told her we were going to start trying for one she thought I was having some kind of crisis. Then she disappeared to Lagos for a month and I took that as a sign she didn't want to talk about it anymore.

The truth is that I don't want children. Or I have never actively considered the reality of having them. I am not maternal, and I am unconvinced that I've witnessed parenting that is good enough to replicate. I can even admit that I'm a little selfish. I like to remain in control, and children-babies-do not allow for that. But over time my husband has convinced me-or I've let him, and a recent (and deeply uncomfortable) conversation with his mother, who is nice but very much believes that the world revolves around her son-that we should at least try for one child. I'd sat across from her in her house and listened to her explain that it is our duty as children to continue the family line, the family name, by building our own and honoring our parents with grandchildren. That my desire to wait was self-serving, and that I should remember that it's not all about me. She used her eyes to guide my gaze toward my husband, then back to herself, and said to me, Your parents must have told you this now? I looked again at my husband-who was in silent but clear agreement with his mother-then at my mother-in-law, and nodded slowly. She nodded back, and that was the end of the discussion. Now whenever she sees me, not pregnant, she frowns.

Temi and I used to argue with other people about how children are the worst kind of pollution, that really if we wanted to help the planet we should kill half of the population, then ourselves, and use the remains as compost for planting trees. That was after watching a strangely intense documentary in geography, but even though the mass-suicide idea faded away, the no-children sentiment remained-sort of. Yet one brief conversation with my mother-in-law, during which I could see my husband daydreaming about holding a baby as I lay sweating in a hospital bed, later, I was apparently trying for a baby. I stopped taking birth control. I was swallowing daily vitamins and avoiding drinking coffee. I was weirdly proud of myself for it, even though the period pains I've experienced in the last three months have been more than any human should bear. But amidst all this, my husband got promoted-yay for him and everything-and now he's just never home, ever. It's difficult to have a baby with someone who is never around. I mostly only see him in the middle of the night, when I get up to snack or wee.

This morning we craned our necks over the sink to look as only one line appeared on the test. I went to pick it up and he stopped my hand by holding his in the way. It says you need to wait at least fifteen minutes, he said. I'm aware-it's been almost seven. So then we need to wait the next eight minutes out. You're going to be late, and another line won't show up in eight minutes. He looked at me for a second, then looked back to the test, like he was about to miss the miraculous arrival of the line. Why are you so sure? Because this is the sixth test I've taken in three months and nothing ever changes after the first three minutes. He pinched the bottom of his nose and left the room, then I heard the front door open and close. I waited a minute-for him to come back and say he'd left his phone or his car keys-and lifted the test and squinted at it. Then I pressed the pedal on the bin, dropped the test inside, and washed my hands.

I'm not even convinced he still wants kids, I eventually respond to Temi, who has been watching me. Look, sis, she says, leaning over the kitchen counter to touch my arm, you've never wanted them anyway. I say bin the whole thing and get an IUD. I laugh because she does and then she takes her hand away, swallows a large amount of wine lifts her glass of wine off the counter, stands up. Anyway, baby talk is boring. She walks out of the kitchen and into the hallway, then comes back for the bag of crisps. How's the remodel going?

We've been remodeling the upstairs bathrooms and library for the last year. I don't mean just redecorating, I mean changing the whole shape and structure. They were perfectly fine before-even my mother, who is notoriously judgmental of anything I do that has not required her input, said our home was a "nice" place. And yet last year my husband decided that he wanted to rip the whole thing apart. He didn't explain why exactly, but he was adamant about it. I tend not to be concerned about these things, and I didn't think it would take very long. But we've been remodeling the same three rooms for a year now and we've had to use the downstairs bathroom for the entire time. I know I sound spoiled. Oh, we have three bathrooms and I have to use the downstairs one, but we have a lot of stairs, and it's a long way to travel for a shower or a poo.
 
I take Temi upstairs and point at the large drawings pinned to the walls in each room, the paint samples dotted around and the thermos in the corner of the bathroom that has been there for a year because one of the contractors we tried out left it behind. I lead her into the library where the floor is covered with something like a see-through tarpaulin and it makes an irritating noise as we walk across it to get to the window that’s just been installed. You didn’t win on the window huh? Temi asks. I shake my head no and look at it again. It’s one large single window that goes across the entire back wall of the library. It’s the only thing that my husband has decided on and not changed his mind about in the past year. We actually argued about it – and normally I wouldn’t have cared – but the idea of the window was so garish to me, I don’t know why anyone would need a whole wall as a window. He said that it was elegant and stylish, and I said it would make the room cold. He said we had heated flooring and I said we shouldn’t be spending extra money on heating every month to heat a room that is cold because of a wall-sized window. His response was to smile and say, I don’t think we’re really people who need to be concerned about money, are we? Eventually, I realised that I didn’t care enough to press the issue, and let him have it.

Now you need a maid, Temi says as we look below us at the half-done patio. Why? I ask. Because then we would have hot chocolates to warm us in this bloody freezing room.

///

Temi wouldn’t call herself rich but she is. Her father works for an oil company and her mother is a GP. Then of course her mother’s father is one of the largest shareholders at the company where her father works. Her father earned the job he has though – she made a point of telling me that when she explained that she was not rich, even though she is. The first time I went to her house, the maid, who was white English and wearing one of those black and white uniforms that I haven’t seen on anyone else since I watched Princess Diaries II, said "Hello, Miss" and took my coat at the door and then asked what I wanted to eat and drink. She stood and waited for my answer, but the uniform looked so comical, and the house girls I’d seen in Nigeria wore their own clothes, so I thought it was some kind of weird joke, and eventually Temi answered for both of us. Then there’s the actual house – it’s big, like big-big, and has a garden the size of three tennis courts. At the time I didn’t even know houses like that existed – I do now, because I live in one – but back then I had to subtly pop my eyes back inside my head and pretend it was perfectly normal.

It wasn’t like a show-home either, where everything looks like no one lives there and the furniture is being rented by the hour. They had ‘family’ photos, a disproportionate number of which only featured Temi’s two older brothers, there were board games in the living room and a half-finished jigsaw puzzle on one of the large dining tables. They had a fridge with photos and wedding invitations on it, messages written with those magnet letters no one really has anymore. They even had a chalk board wall where someone had written ‘house shopping list’, in a beautiful cursive. Temi showed me her room, with its posters and bookshelves, and clothes all over the floor. She showed me her parents’ separate studies, the reading room that had been converted from a guest room, then she took me into the kitchen where the maid had prepared two hot chocolates and grilled cheese sandwiches, each with a small side salad.

Reviews

One of Lit Hub’s Most Anticipated Books of 2023
One of NYLON’s Most Anticipated Books of 2023
One of ELLE’s Best New Books for Summer
One of TIME's Best Books of May 2023
One of PopSugar’s Best New Books of 2023
One of The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Best New Books of May
One of New York Post’s Best New Books
One of AFAR’s Best Books for Summer

"Switching points of view among the three, this debut is viciously funny, different than anything you’ve read lately, and at the same time, strangely relatable." —Oprah Daily

"A dark, funny tale that tackles an uncomfortably familiar question: what happens if your partner and your best friend cannot stand each other?" —The Guardian
 
"Two's company, three's a crowd—and what a crowd they are, in this smart, sly novel by Ore Agbaje-Williams." —CBS Sunday Morning

"A beach read that promises tea and tension. . . . Ore Agbaje-Williams gifts us a comedic domestic drama about the bitter tension between a husband, his wife, and her best friend. . . . A thrilling spectacle ensues throughout the course of a single day." –The Good Men Project

"Layered and brimming with subtext and sharp observations about money, gender, patriarchy and complicity, this story subverts the love triangle trope by introducing something more akin to a hate triangle. . . . A wicked ride." —Electric Lit

"Switching points of view among the three, this debut is viciously funny, different than anything you’ve read lately, and at the same time, strangely relatable." —Oprah Daily

"As short and sharp as a pairing knife . . . Agbaje-Williams writes in a fluid, conversational style that dissolves paper and ink into sound waves. . . . The novel is so theatrical in its structure and immediacy that the moment you finish reading it, you’ll imagine you actually heard it. . . . This comédie à trois moves along so briskly and with such sly wit that it’s easy to overlook how the novel teases issues of class and race. . . . Deliciously wicked." —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"The Three of Us toes the tightrope between concession and deception as Agbaje-Williams executes surprise twists in a narrative that’s drenched in wine.” —TIME

"In this sharp, taut, dark comedy that takes place over the course of one fateful day, the simmering tensions between a husband, a wife, and her best friend come to a boiling point. It’s a tense read that will have you glued to your beach chair!” —Jenny Jackson, author of Pineapple Street, for GMA.com

"Cleverly told in three parts, from each character’s point of view, The Three of Us will give its readers lots to talk about over brunch." —Real Simple

"[A] knockout debut novel about the hazards and self-destructive nature of spousal compromise. . . Fine details [suffuse] love and life into a hilarious, clever and incisive narrative of admirable and ugly truths . . . . [A] simmering tempest of clashing expectations, values and desires." —Shelf Awareness

"A biting comedy of manners with a delightfully simple, but incredibly fertile, premise . . . . Over three acts, as the thin walls of tact and civility begin to erode, all manner of scabrously hilarious confessions and accusations burst through.” Lit Hub

"Taking place over the course of a single day, this bold, sharp debut novel explores the intrigue of the ménage à trois in a comedy of manners about the tensions between a husband, his wife, and her best friend.” –NYLON

"This fast-paced and comedic novel is a thought-provoking exploration of cultural truths, defiance, and the complexity of love and betrayal.” —SheReads

"Well crafted…A tightly constructed debut novel." —NPR.org

"In this slim, clever novel, everything goes down over the course of boozy afternoon." —GMA.com

"In Ore Agbaje-Williams' bitterly funny novel, a friend disrupts a volatile marriage. . . . Incisive." —Minneapolis Star Tribune

"[A] splashy debut…This humorous, subversive novel explores cultural truths exemplified in the minutiae of domestic life—the daily happenings that, when put together, can have massive consequences regarding betrayal, loyalty and love." —W Magazine

"[An] introspective journey of one of the most complex love triangles one may ever have: between a wife and her husband and best friend. . . . Suffice it to say, it's one wild, funny ride." —Scary Mommy

"Agbaje-Williams’ dark wit and wry observations keep it all interesting. She slowly and slyly builds the tension between her three characters until it fairly sparks off the page….At fewer than 200 pages, The Three of Us makes for a quick and thought-provoking read that can elicit a cringe one minute and rueful laughter the next. The tightly wound plot drops a few revelations along the way, calling into question what the characters—and the reader—think they know. When two people vie for the attention of a third, who will win? How far will each go? Agbaje-Williams keeps readers wondering until the end." —BookPage (starred review)

"[A] striking, often wickedly funny debut . . . Agbaje-Williams brilliantly captures the inner monologue as well as the conversational style of each of the three through which their whole cultural milieu takes shape around them . . . . An original and potent comedy of manners with an ingenious final twist." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Wonderfully witty. . . The precarious détente between a wife, her husband, and her best friend blows up over the course of one fateful, wine-fueled day. . . . This wry comedy of manners unfolds in a trio of engagingly self-absorbed, revealingly unreliable first person narratives. Agbaje-Williams sharply renders each character’s unique voice, building depth and tension as the story is told and retold." —Booklist

"In rich, raw, often hilarious detail. . . Agbaje-Williams brilliantly captures the toxic dynamics of an emotional train wreck that inevitably comes from the imbalance of a fragile marriage threatened by the presence of a conniving third party." —Library Journal

"[An] intoxicating debut...It’s delicious to watch the characters’ long-fermenting tensions come to the fore. It lands as a discerning debut from an author who knows a thing or two (or three) about the ever-shifting dynamics of intimacy." –Publishers Weekly

“Devouring this bold, brilliant satire was refreshing and confronting and completely entertaining. So much is achieved in Agbaje-Williams’ writing: the nuances that make even our closest relationships uncomfortable, the tension of a shifting perspective, the anarchy provoked by a single cunning comment. Beguiling and cutting and admirable—I loved it.” —Ashley Audrain, author of The Push

"A taut study of three people, exploring with the lightest of touches how being the child of immigrants affects one’s thinking about gender roles, personal and professional ambition, human intimacy, and much more. The Three of Us is a cunning (and often very funny) book, a wily and promising debut.” —Rumaan Alam, author of Leave The World Behind

The Three of Us is explosive. . . . What rocked me was the naked examination of that coveted construct we call innocence. . . . How easily it's weaponized and made indistinguishable from guilt; and how the people who are honest about this are the only ones with a real chance at wellness and wholeness. The Three of Us read, wrote, and erased me. Then, it gave me back to myself, giggling and nodding my head. What a keen mind this story comes from. What a calm power this story holds.” —Robert Jones, Jr., author of The Prophets

"An astute, composed, and quietly hilarious observation of identity, marriage, and friendship from a unique storyteller." —Diana Evans, author of Ordinary People

"Both wickedly entertaining and thought-provoking. I couldn't stop turning the page!" —Lizzie Damilola Blackburn, author of Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?

"Three soliloquists audition to be the main character, each with certain claims, certain gripes. As Agbaje-Williams’s trio depart from their hinges, her own grip on events holds tight. With deft plotting, mature control of voice and a wicked enjoyment of perspective, The Three of Us is well-marshalled and full of fun." —Naoise Dolan, author of Exciting Times

"A sharp, humorous, superbly entertaining novel exploring Black love and relationships and the conflicts and tensions that arise from jealousy, desire, control, and cultural expectations. Agbaje-Williams' cultural references and evocation of the contemporary world within which Black couples build relationships is insightful and impressive." —Jacqueline Crooks, author of Fire Rush

"Sharp, astute and wickedly funny—Ore Agbaje-Williams’ sharp wit and perfectly realized protagonists make for a taut, darkly comic read that packs a serious punch." —Yomi Adegoke, author of Slay in Your Lane and The List

"Unique and completely captivating, The Three of Us absorbed me. When I finished I wanted to go back and read it from the beginning again.” —Annie Lord, author of Notes on Heartbreak

"Funny, fresh, and full of drama. Not a word goes to waste in this extraordinary debut." —Sophie Irwin, author of A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting

"A treat of a debut. Agbaje-Williams has a gift of gliding between the sharpest driest humor and damning emotional revelations to incisively expose the vulnerabilities, fallacies, and messiness that line the relationships with those we are closest to. Dazzling, dextrous, and droll, this millennial noir is a taut exploration of culture and the politics of relationships."Bolu Babalola, author of Love in Colour
 
“I’m obsessed. This is a masterful, at times familiar and relatable, yet ultimately disturbing portrayal of a friendship. Constantly surprising, often dark, and at times sinister, it is without fail always entertaining and funny.”Claire Kohda, author of Woman, Eating

Author

© Jedidah M
ORE AGBAJE-WILLIAMS is a British-Nigerian author and an acquiring editor at Borough Press. She wrote her debut novel The Three of Us during lockdown, and currently lives in London, England.
  View titles by Ore Agbaje-Williams

Guides

Discussion Guide for The Three of Us

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