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3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much dialogue, not enough plot July 30 2000
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.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Too lightweight to be considered serious literature Sept. 19 1999
By A Customer
Madeline St John's "The Essence Of The Thing" tells the story of how Nicola copes in the aftermath of an unexpected breakup with her live-in boyfriend Jonathan. The premise of the plot is so basic in terms of human experience that anybody reading it is going to instantly relate to the personal trauma and the feeling of pain and incomprehension that take hold of Nicola and yes, even Jonathan. The novel's main strengths lie in the honesty and simplicity of St John's writing. Except for those who might dismiss it as a mildly feminist tinged "woman's book" in which the male characters are either cads or morons (not counting the gay Philip), readers might derive casual reading pleasure from this very small book about a commonplace experience of the heart. But as serious literature, it doesn't quite stack up. The insights offered by St John aren't particularly deep or enlightening. Structurally, the novel is also one-dimensional, making no attempt to raise or explore more complex issues on life and love. I am amazed that such a small novel was even considered deserving of a Booker Prize nomination. The selection committee must have seen something special in it which I didn't. Either that or 1997 was a year which spawned a poor crop.
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4.0 out of 5 stars On Being Dumped and Being Dignified June 6 2002
In contrast to an American character, who might wallow in self-pity, eat Haagen-Das and plot revenge, Nicola takes the high road when unceremoniously dumped by Jonathan, her live-in lover of five years. Deeply shocked, she maintains her love for him and her belief in herself through the process of finding out what happened, why he's asking her to leave, and accepting the outcome of that process.
Madeleine St. John uses realistic and often witty dialogue between peripheral characters to demonstrate how the break up of two people can have an effect on almost everyone they know. Although she writes with a light touch, she explores the relationship dynamics between four other couples while giving play to the fragility of any love relationship. The Essence of the Thing is a quick and entertaining read, but it could not be described as shallow by any stretch of the imagination.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Captures the emotions of being broken up with Nov. 20 1998
By A Customer
Sometimes I want to read a book that I can finish in one sitting, books that are long enough to allow me to disappear for a few hours in another's life, but don't have to ever have their covers closed until the end. This was one of those books. Beatifully written, succinct, yet filled with rich characterizations, this novel perfectly captures the feeling of being broken up with while also suprisingly giving perspective to the agonies sometimes endured by those doing the deed. Also, it is believable and rooted in everyday life, there is a bit of this story in everyone. Although the subject matter is a bit sad, this book is far from depressing, and is filled with moments of humor and delight. I am not a huge fan of contemporary fiction (often too fantastical or depressing), but books like this one could make me change my mind.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent writing, but without lingering impact Aug. 14 1998
This book is a compact collection of scenes which take place during the end of a relationship, along with remembrances of earlier times. Ms. St. John has a complete grasp of the ebb and flow of dialogue through which she unerringly creates the clear presence of the characters and situation, capturing both the humour and poignancy which the spoken word sometimes achieves. The context is also one to which most readers will undoubtedly find certain resonance from their own experiences. However, despite the book being thoroughly enjoyable, and inducing great appreciation for the craftsmanship, I was left with only the faintest lingering taste of the story after it was finished. That in itself is not necessarily an unpleasant sensation, but do not read this book with the expectation of wrenching, emotional reverberations.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I've Been There: She's Got it Right May 18 1999
In this novel of love lost, St. John provides a realistic portrait of a woman unceremoniously dumped. I've been in Nicola's shoes and the range of emotions she experiences is dead on target. St. John accurately captures those lingering feelings of love, the anger, and then the realization that some parts of you are permenently broken after such an experience. Sure, it's a sad sad thing...but St. John incorporates humor and wisdom nicely.
I would go so far as to compare it to "Bridget Jones' Diary" although a more serious look at modern love and commitment.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing
I'm sure that whoever reads the book will want to encounter Ms. St John in person. She's great in depicting character's psychology - so much as we think it's our best friend(s)... Read more
Published on April 30 2002 by Portofino
4.0 out of 5 stars Frighteningly true to life....
The Essence of the Thing captured the modern relationship between a man and a woman. It explored what happened as the relationship disintegrated, leaving one partner in shocked... Read more
Published on Dec 26 1999 by Sarah
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay read, doubts on that Booker nomination though
The book sets out to be impressive but along the way it somehow disappoints. The plot seems to drag on endlessly with the characters continously sulking and mulling over their... Read more
Published on Dec 4 1999 by Nur Aini
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Book!
I think it's a good book but not 2 gr8 cuz it's sometimes confusing....I mean, the story with all those conversations and stuff are just confusing. Read more
Published on Oct. 6 1999
1.0 out of 5 stars A Booker Prize nominee???
I usually wouldn't write but felt compelled to say that this book is awful. Definately not serious literature - must have been a very weak year in the Commonwealth!
Published on May 19 1999
1.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing
I was extremely disappointed with this novel, especially after reading all the good reviews it received here. Read more
Published on May 19 1999
3.0 out of 5 stars Missing in Action
The story had no plot at all. A very simple story told in even simpler way! I was not very impressed. Read more
Published on Dec 1 1998 by A. Vinayak
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