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The Essence of the Thing by Madeleine St John

The Essence of the Thing is a testament to the strength of even the weakest among us.

This is the perfect book to read in a single sitting if you can escape the madhouse and hide at the bottom of the garden for an afternoon. Nicola Gatling nips out of her Notting Hill flat for a packet of fags one spring evening and when she gets back, Jonathan, her significant other, tells her he has come to the conclusion that they should part with no proper explanation.

Anyone who has been dumped from a great height with little or no warning will feel an itch in their palms as they fight the urge to strangle the giant prat. Not only has twitty Jonathan changed his mind about Nicola, he’s bought into her flat and now she can’t afford to buy her half back so she has to move out.

The shock of not being loved anymore on top of the shock of being homeless is more than enough to contend with but then there’s Jonathan’s incomprehension that she is hurt or in any way put out by his change of heart. I personally love stories of how broken hearts get mended and this is a good one. Written in short chapters with a lot of conversational counselling from Nicola’s friends, The Essence of the Thing is a testament to the strength of even the weakest among us.

The late author Madeleine St John had a somewhat tragic life – born in Sydney, she was 12 when her mother committed suicide and was brought up by her father, a distinguished but distant QC from whom she later became estranged. She died of emphysema in 2006.

First published in 1997, The Essence of the Thing has been re-released now because the author’s first book, The Women in Black, is about to be made into a film. It will be directed by Bruce Beresford (Crimes of the Heart – one of my favourite films) who went to university in Sydney with Madeleine. Also there at the same time were Clive James and Germaine Greer. Quite a collection!

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