What is it about you stranger?
This is a love story with a mystery at the heart of it, a paranormal mystery. Why can Ashley Easton speak French so well? Why can she ride a horse so well, after only riding for just a few weeks? Who is the mysterious young man she meets in the dressage competition, and why is he so alluring? A 3rd Time to Die by George A. Bernstein is a love story and a mystery, rolled into one. It uses the concept of reincarnation as an interesting plot device.
Our first glimpse of Ashley Easton is of a woman rescuing a horse:
"Hey quit that!" Her shout raspy, she banged the gate with the side of the pitchfork. (p. 25)
The horse has always represented passion and desire in literature, and A 3rd Time to Die is no exception. Ashley's new horse brings her excitement and energy into her life and allows a new relationship to flourish. Ashley is revitalised and energised by rescuing the horse; it also brings into sharp relief the way her life has changed. Ashley is an engaging character who knows her own mind and who is financially independent. She feels a great deal, but takes a long time to act on these feelings: this is Ashley Easton's challenge. The reader feels the occasional sense of frustration, and is delighted she finally gets herself going.
Ashley’s lover, Craig Thornton is lovely and is everything that Ashley needs and wants: he is the polar opposite to Ashley's husband Keith, and is charming, interesting, fascinated by Ashley, shares her interests, and is caring. Their relationship changes over time, and as they learn more about each other, their characters develop in surprising and engrossing ways. A personal fault or two, however, might have helped to make Craig more real.
Craig Thornton is also an interesting contrast to Ashley because his marriage is breaking down, but it's not his fault: his wife is the one who is cheating. Bernstein thus sets up interesting parallels and contrasts in the relationships. The two spouses, Keith and Toni, are not pleasant characters. Keith is a husband totally lost from the relationship: he ignores the children and takes a mistress. I would have preferred a little more shading to these spouses to add more real complexity of personality: Keith doesn't help with the children, doesn't like anything about his wife anymore, is nasty in his other relationships; but has no redeeming quality. He is a little too bad to be human. He seems to have no saving grace: I know Craig is lovely but Keith must have been OK at one point.
The novel examines relationships. The men and women in A 3rd Time to Die are not just seeking anyone but someone special. In the opening 1895's past-life visionary flashback Charles sees in Victoria, a woman who is "passionate, sensuous and willful" (p. 6). He loves her for these qualities, and Ashley and Craig are similarly looking for very special traits.
Soul mates are important in this novel - people click and realise they are meant to be together. The website of the Australian Psychological Society says that: "newer fields of psychology, especially transpersonal psychology and ecopsychology, are taking seriously the holistic notion of human beings as comprising mind, body, and soul. These fields propose that people are spiritual beings living a human life that extends beyond our mundane existence and skin-encapsulated ego-self to include direct experience of the environment and the cosmos. They recognise the importance of integrating spiritual with physical and mental reality, that spirituality is but one part of the whole.” (http://www.groups.psychology.org.au/tpig/) The complications of the soul mates and reincarnation that have to be overcome make a really interesting plot device in this novel. The question of whether Ashley and Craig will survive their love, and who is against them and intends them harm is a gripping question.
The last main character is the psychologist Dr Feldman. He is an interesting character: he's helpful, but indecisive and his eventual insights and understandings moved the plot along. Feldman is one of Joseph Campbell's helpers. In Monomyth, Cambell explains that: "For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth) Feldman helps Ashley and Craig understand what is happening. This relationship is a satisfying aspect of the novel.
Ashley and Craig share a love of horse riding. As has been noted, the horse has always represented strong emotions and passionate desires in literature and this is also true in A 3rd Time To Die. Since D. H. Lawrence, the horse has been a staple representation of sexuality, freedom and power. Ashley's horse in the novel represents all the freedom of her youth, the regained sexuality that her unfulfilled marriage has stripped from her, as well as links to the past. A secondary meaning for the horse spirit animal is the balance between the instinctive and tamed parts of your personality. Ashley is thus more real when she is with her horse, Injun, than when she is in her house. She feels freer, her speech with Craig is more natural, but she also learns more about herself and the issues that are troubling her: "Jeez, that's when this started! The sense of riding through woods and whispered thoughts in French. Nothing as intense as now. Why the fantasy only haunt her when jumping a horse?" (p. 87). This is the symbolism of the nature / culture dichotomy.
The story’s structure is that of several parts with the first long section establishing the various different relationships. Ashley spends a considerable amount of time analysing her (hopeless) marriage, before concluding that there is nothing to be done. This section was long and drawn out. I wondered why it took so long to get to a resolution of this point. Once the relationship with Craig was established and Bernstein managed to bring the pair together, the book moved along at a great pace.
In the final section the plot lines are drawn to a satisfying conclusion and the lovers’ relationship and future, and the circumstance of the nemesis are well resolved. A final catastrophic climax is well done and keeps the reader guessing until the last moment.
The role of money in the novel is interesting: Ashley is well off, thanks to her Father's money. She uses the processes and systems and makes them work for her to improve her life, rather than just make more money. This is a positive role for women.
A 3rd Time to Die's main theme is of course reincarnation. Have these people lived other lives? Who were they? Who is after Ashley and Craig now? Carl Jung believed that in a person's life, synchronicity served a role similar to that of dreams, with the purpose of shifting a person's egocentric conscious thinking to greater wholeness. Dr. Feldman helps promote this view in the novel. He is also a psychiatrist using various methods to assist his patients. Transpersonal psychology is a school of psychology that studies the transpersonal, self-transcendent or spiritual aspects of the human experience. Transpersonal experiences may be defined as "experiences in which the sense of identity or self extends beyond (trans) the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche or cosmos." Issues considered in transpersonal psychology include spiritual self-development, self beyond the ego, peak experiences, mystical experiences, systemic trance and other sublime and/or unusually expanded experiences of living. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transpersonal_psychology) Dr. Feldman moves from a more reductionist view of the mind to a more spiritual, Transpersonal approach and indeed the question of this new ideology and philosophy become central to the book.
A 3rd Time to Die is a love story with a twist, a paranormal mystery with an engaging heroine and plot surprises and developments which were very satisfying. The characters develop in interesting ways through time and as the novel progresses. The relationships were interesting and well-drawn. The plot lines are drawn to a satisfying conclusion, and the lover relationship and mystery of foreboding doom are well resolved. The conclusion is gripping and the answer is unexpected and pleasingly surprising. I am happy to rate this book as 4 stars out of 5.
http://goo.gl/Jg40jh A 3rd Time To Die (Book ed.)
http://goo.gl/eg6sE5 A 3rd Time To Die (Kindle ed.)
http://goo.gl/uTOJg9 George Bernstein (Facebook page)
http://goo.gl/xp0Wvc George Bernstein (Goodreads page)