The Essence of the Thing

Madeleine St.John

The Essence of the Thing
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The Essence of the Thing

Madeleine St.John

Nicola should never have stepped out to buy that pack of cigarettes because the man she discovers in her living room when she returns is not the adorable, straightforward, devoted Jonathan with whom she has been sharing her life and flat for the past six years. That Jonathan would never have simply, unilaterally, decided that she should, as he abruptly put it, ‘move out.’ So a shocked, grief-stricken Nicola packs her bags and sets out bravely on the bumpy course that will take her from the hellish end of an affair to the essence of the thing. With her comic timing and tender vision Madeleine St John takes us into the changing nature of the human heart.


Madeleine St John, author of the wonderfully engaging The Women in Black, set in 1950s Sydney, turns her sharp eye and social observations to contemporary London.

Nicola, a young and happy publicist for an arts organisation, returns home to find her partner Jonathan waiting to talk to her. Blissfully unaware of his state of mind, she is utterly paralysed when he announces that he wants them to go their separate ways. What follows is a smart and witty assessment of contemporary relationships and the nature of romantic love. 

At first Nicola clings to the idea that this is a bad dream she will surely waken from. As she slowly comes to her senses, she turns to her closest friends to help rebuild: she finds a new place to live, applies for a new job, starts a new morning coffee routine. Jonathan, on the other hand, so keen to escape the relationship trap, falls into a dull and empty routine. What, after all, is the essence of that thing called love? As one of the male characters reflects: ‘I suppose nothing is as serious as love’, but then, ‘Don’t ever tell anyone I said that, will you? … I’ll never be able to show my face on a squash court again.’ 

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