Jennifer (JC-S)'s Reviews > The Essence of the Thing

The Essence of the Thing by Madeleine St. John
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bookshelves: australian-womens-writers-challenge

‘I went out last night to buy some cigarettes.’

Nicola left the flat briefly to buy a packet of cigarettes, but when she returns her live-in boyfriend Jonathan tells her their relationship must end. Jonathan says that he no longer wants to be with her, and it would be best if she moved out. Disbelief is Nicola’s first reaction. Then, as realization sets in and her world falls apart, she is devastated. Nicola turns to her friends, particularly Susannah, for advice. While most think that Nicola would be better off without Jonathan, she isn’t convinced.

While this novel is the story of a relationship breakup, it has some very humorous aspects. The breakup of a relationship does not just affect the couple involved, it has an impact on friends and family as well. The friends (mostly couples) and parents of Jonathan and Nicola are each ready to offer their opinions.

'Let's say he's a prat. But he's the prat I love.' She paused. 'Actually, I've never been absolutely sure what prat means, exactly.'

Much of the story unfolds via conversation, with each chapter offering a different point of view. This enables us to appreciate the differing perspectives and, importantly, to see how Nicola and Jonathan react. It may have been Jonathan’s choice to end the relationship, but it soon becomes clear that Nicola is more able than Jonathan to move on. Has Jonathan made the right decision? Does he really want Nicola to move out of his life?

‘Too bad about the marmalade. The balance between bitter and sweet was the essence of the thing.’

In this short novel, Ms St John managed to dissect a particular relationship in order to demonstrate its numerous and various components. Control may start with Jonathan, but it certainly doesn’t stay with him. Friends and family members have views, but Nicola and Jonathan need to negotiate their own paths through it. I enjoyed this novel, with its flashes of humour and neat depictions of relationships and their perils.

‘The Essence of the Thing’ was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1997.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Reading Progress

January 30, 2015 – Started Reading
February 3, 2015 – Shelved
February 3, 2015 – Shelved as: australian-womens-writers-challenge
February 3, 2015 – Finished Reading

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