THE ESSENCE OF THE THING by Madeleine St. John


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The anatomy of a breakup, rendered with unswerving precision by the author of A Pure Clear Light (not reviewed), etc. Out of the blue, Jonathan informs Nicola that he’s concluded she should move out of the apartment they’ve shared for years. It seems he no longer loves her. She asks him to repeat himself; he is cold, vague and certain of his decision. Numb, unable to think, Nicola seeks refuge with her friend Susannah, who holds her while she cries and attempts to comfort her with the requisite observations about the stupidity of men. Initially, Nicola defends Jonathan; she scans the recent past in search of warning signs, of hidden flaws in herself that he may finally have recognized. Jonathan proposes that he buy Nicola out of the apartment that they own together and that had been hers first, back in the days when his friends thought he was incredibly lucky to have nabbed a girlfriend, any girlfriend. Jonathan (who, to the extent he reflects on the breakup, believes that Nicola has done something to his soul) does have his twinges of suffering: the house feels rather empty, he has no clue as to how to feed himself, he remains in the spare room (why not?). Meanwhile, Nicola sleepwalks her way to a new life. She moves into Susannah’s house, idly applies for really good jobs she has no hope of getting, goes out dancing all night with friends from work. If the mechanics of the separation are underwhelming, the backdrop of harried but true-blue friends, kind children, and decent if intrusive parents shows, with richness and realism, the post-breakup interplay between internal turmoil and ongoing real life. This deceptively easy read, then, is in fact spare, sure-handed, and emotionally canny.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-7867-0560-4
Page count: 240pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1998


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