I recently enjoyed Madeleine St John’s first novel, The Women in Black, so much that I tried to find some of her other novels. The Essence of the Thing was the novel which brought her a brief bit of international fame when it was short listed for the 1997 Booker Prize. It was her third novel.
Unlike The Women in Black, it is not a comedy. It details in slow motion the break up of a relationship. The thing which most recommends the novel is its authenticity. Every thing described in it has the great ring of truth. St John describes the devastation, the heart break, the confusion of a disintegrating relationship, in a simple, distilled language. This essential use of language enables St John illuminate the states of mind one goes through when suffering this kind of emotional crisis.
The style and subject matter reminded me somewhat of American author Richard Yates' books Revolutionary Road and The Easter Parade.
Like The Women in Black, I read this book in one day. Everything in it was so emotionally true it made the novel virtually breathe for me.
I’m now trying to lay my hands on St John’s other two novels. I hope the reprinting in Australia of The Women in Black brings a new round of attention for the work of this worthy writer.