Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 18, 2013

Sensational Snippets: The Essence of the Thing (1997), by Madeleine St John

The Essence of the ThingI am reading The Essence of the Thing, by Madeleine St John.  It was shortlisted for the Booker in 1997.  It’s hard to believe that the bitter, alienated woman who is the subject of Helen Trinca’s recent biography wrote this kind of sparkling dialogue:

Susannah has just taken a phone call from her friend:

‘Who was that?’
‘What does she want?’
‘A friend in need.’
‘Oh?  Something wrong?’
‘She says ish.  I dare say we’ll find out tonight.’
‘Oh, God.  She’s not going to go on and on, is she? I might go out and leave you girls to it.’
‘As you like. We can manage without you.’
‘Is she coming here for supper?’
‘Well, naturally.  She’s coming straight from work.  She’s bringing something to drink.’
‘Tell you what.  I’ll stay until we’ve eaten and then I’ll bugger off down the pub.’
‘It’s karaoke night.’
‘All the better.’
‘I thought you liked Nicola.’
‘She’s a sweetheart.’
‘I just don’t like women going on an on.’
‘Exactly what do you mean by that?’
‘You know.  On and on.  Complaining.  Usually about a man.’
‘If only there were never any occasion to.’
‘Come, now.  You don’t hear us men going on and on.’
‘You have no occasion to.’
‘Can it really be as simple as that?’
‘Possibly not.  Well, that’s interesting, isn’t it.  The thing that’s wrong with women is that they go on and on, and the thing that’s wrong with men is that they don’t.’
‘Do you think that I should do my Joe Cocker number tonight, or that Bryan Ferry one?’
‘Honestly, Geoff.  This is no time for joking. Nicola might be in real trouble.’
Not her.  That chic little Notting Hill set-up with the deluxe plumbing and the stuffed shirt laying down the odd claret.  No way.  She probably just wants some help with her vol-au-vents.’
‘Geoffrey, you are an idiot.  I think you’d really better make yourself scarce tonight after all.  Do the Joe Cocker. Now bugger off and let me get some work done.’
Susannah worked from home, and Geoffrey was a lecturer at a former polytechnic, so between them they just managed to service the mortgage on a house in Clapham which they had bought before the neighbourhood became quasi-fashionable.  They had one clever child; they could not afford another.

The Essence of the Thing by Madeleine St John, Text Classics, 2013, p. 13-14


Fishpond: The Essence of the Thing (Text Classics)


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