Madeleine St. John has a great ear for dialogue, there's no doubt about it. It's a good thing, too, because "The Essence of the Thing" is carried along primarily on the strength of the characters' dialogue. The novel is a kind of case study of the break-up; when Jonathan unexpectedly ends his relationship with live-in lover Nicola, we see the devastating (and ultimately liberating) effect this has on her. Anger, grief, denial, bargaining and acceptance - yes, all these stages of loss are here, explored in great talky detail. While I can appreciate the quality of the writing - believable and natural dialogue that flows is incredibly hard to do! - the novel's heavy reliance on conversation to explore Nicola's psychological state ultimately cripples it. I was frustrated by the slow pace; I found the short chapters and frequent shifts in time choppy; lengthy conversations without immediately knowing who was speaking or when sometimes confused me; and by the middle of the book, I grew impatient with Nicola's insistence on continuing to love and moon over a man who was clearly a jerk. That said, however, there was something engrossing about the book that kept me reading until the end and I plan to check out more of this author's work.