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The Essence of the Thing
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Nominated for the 1997 Booker Prize, this third novel by St. John (The Women in Black, Ulverscroft, 1994) is a magnetic story about what happens to a couple in the aftermath of their relationship. Set in contemporary England, the novel begins when Jonathan abruptly breaks up with Nicola and asks her to move out. Nicola, who had thought that all was well with their relationship, seeks a reason for this unexplained breakup. With the support of friends, Nicola lets go of Jonathan, her feelings evolving slowly from devastation to independence and strength. At the same time, St. John reveals Jonathan's emptiness, his deteriorating world, and his realization that he may have made the biggest mistake of his life. St. John addresses all the subtle details pertaining to starting one's life again after breaking up. Readers will be drawn into this remarkable novel by the author's ability to convey the feelings of Nicola and Jonathan with conviction. Recommended for all libraries.‘Judith Ann Akalaitis, formerly with the Supreme Court of Illinois Lib., Chicago

The difficulties of committing to a relationship make wonderful fodder for St. John's insightful, often hilarious third novel (after A Pure Clear Light). Out of the blue, Jonathan, a 30-something London lawyer, bluntly informs Nicola, his live-in girlfriend of six years, that they should split up because he feels the relationship "just isn't working." The impact of this decision stuns Nicola, who dutifully moves out of their apartment and tries to understand where things went wrong. Creating a brilliant primer on the battle of the sexes, the author brings together the observations of Nicola's married friends, Susannah and Geoffrey; Jonathan's married friends, Lizzie and Alfred; and the parting couple's respective parents. Although it is occasionally difficult to immediately discern who is speaking, the multiple viewpoints work well to enliven the pace and present a multifaceted glimpse into Nicola's predicament and Jonathan's unexpected reactions to the domestic tragedy he set in motion. Watching Nicola grieve for her lost love, readers experience everything from her bewildered sense of denial that she and Jonathan are actually breaking up to her final acceptance of her changed circumstances, and the bittersweet conclusions she comes to as she seeks other possibilities for romance and excitement. Using spare prose, sparkling dialogue and painfully true observations on family life, St. John creates a winning combination of humor and pathos. (Sept.)

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