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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Three Times at Dawn

Alessandro Baricco

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To purchase Mr. Gwyn

Title: Three Times at Dawn
Author: Alessandro Baricco
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 76 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: in Mr. Gwyn - US
in Mr. Gwyn - UK
in Mr. Gwyn - Canada
in Mr. Gwyn - India
Tre volte all'alba - Italia
Tres veces al amanecer - España
  • Italian title: Tre volte all'alba
  • Published together (in English) with Mr. Gwyn, as Mr. Gwyn
  • Translated by Ann Goldstein

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Our Assessment:

A- : three encounters; lovely sequence

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Cultural . 17/12/2013 Manuel Hidalgo
The NY Times Book Rev. . 31/8/2014 Rachel Donadio
Publishers Weekly . 5/5/2014 .
San Francisco Chronicle A 28/8/2014 Heller McAlpin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Tres veces al amanecer responde, pues, a una buena idea, a lo que llamaríamos una idea original. (...) El lector disfruta, siempre con inquietud, de las tres historias, que pueden leerse autónomamente e incluso en otro orden. La ingeniosa idea de partida halla su culminación en las rimas internas, en los puntos de conexión -- muy trabajados -- entre las vidas y los personajes." - Manuel Hidalgo, El Cultural

  • "With its multiple protagonists and multiple intertwined narratives, Three Times at Dawn reads like the love child of Virginia Woolf and Haruki Murakami." - Rachel Donadio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "I don’t want to spoil the book’s many surprises, but I can say that the two novellas play with time, which sometimes passes with excruciating languor while at others leaps forward by years or veers from linear chronology altogether." - Heller McAlpin, San Francisco Chronicle

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Near the end of Alessandro Baricco's Mr. Gwyn there is some discussion of a book titled Three Times at Dawn, attributed to an Akash Narayan. A character seeks it out, and finds that of its three parts: "the first was very similar to one of Jasper Gwyn's portraits" -- a little longer, but "all the important things were there". As the dedication to that book also suggests, it turns out that Three Times at Dawn is clearly the work of Jasper Gwyn, who apparently found novel-writing (or extended-narrative-writing) harder to abandon than he initially thought.
       The Three Times at Dawn presented to readers here -- together in one volume with Mr. Gwyn in the English-language edition, though published separately, as a stand-alone, in the original Italian (and in, for example, Spanish and Dutch translation) -- is no longer attributed to Akash Narayan, or to Jasper Gwyn; it's a work by Alessandro Baricco, apparently written after and entirely separately from Mr. Gwyn -- albeit obviously inspired by the then-still-fictional work he imagined and mentioned in the earlier work. This puts a bit of a burden on the book, as readers of Mr. Gwyn look for clues to Gwyn's portraiture in, specifically, the first of the three sections (Baricco having revealed very little about the exact nature of Gwyn's portraits, beyond their length, in Mr. Gwyn itself), but that aside, and taking the portrait-ideas as mere stepping stone, or seed, Three Times at Dawn quickly and readily unfolds as a fine, whole work all its own.
       There are three parts to the short book, three separate episodes that are, however connected -- over a fairly long period, as the time-gaps between them are large. Each part centers on an encounter between a male and female figure, each taking place in the hours up to and through dawn; other figures also appear, but are largely incidental: these stories are, in the main, one-on-one encounters. One or another of the characters is also in some way on the run -- often then not so much abetted by the other, as brought to safety (that's the idea, at least -- but Baricco has some nice spins on how that works here too). Each story is also presented dialogue-heavy, the back and forth between the two taking up most of the narrative. In each, in different ways, one character reaches out and tries to help another, a mix of uncertainty and absolute conviction driving their actions.
       The first encounter takes place in the lobby of a hotel, a woman entering it in the pre-dawn hours and finding only a man waiting there. As he explains, he deals in scales (of the measuring kind) and is waiting to go to an important business meeting; she seems to have partied a bit too long and hard and latches on to him, and keeps finding excuses to keep him there and busy. It's a nicely realized episode -- and, with its very unexpected conclusion, the encounter turns out to have been of a fundamentally different nature than readers were led to believe. Exactly what the nature of it is is then only revealed in the following episode, which takes place many years later -- and begins with another hotel-lobby encounter in the pre-dawn hours.
       If perhaps not quite the 'portraits' one might expect Gwyn to have written (these episodes are considerably longer, for one thing), they do suggest what he, and Baricco, are after, of getting at the essence of a life. The episodes focus on the present -- the situation the two central characters are in -- while neatly filling in background, the parts of the characters' pasts that have led them here, and made them who they are. There's an artful subtlety to how Baricco does this, making the stories -- and the whole -- all the more effective. "You would have struggled to figure out the story, seeing them", Baricco notes as one pair of his characters walk in the early morning hours, but Baricco presents just the right details, so that the pieces fall into place, here and elsewhere.
       A very good slim volume of connected (life-)stories.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 June 2014

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Three Times at Dawn: Reviews: Other books by Alessandro Baricco under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Alessandro Baricco was born in 1958.

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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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