Humor and Sorrow


Two glimpses into a book that I am enjoying despite the shared heartache.

from The Essence of the Thing
Madeleine St. John

At lunch-time she sent out for a sandwich and worked in while the office slowly emptied around her. At last they were all gone. She carried on valiantly for a few minutes but then abandoned the machine, and pushing aside the half-eaten sandwich and the half-drunk coffee, and leaning her elbows on the desk, she buried her face in her hands, and sat thus, immobile, abandoned for a time to the unveiled acknowledgement of white-hot relentless pain. It will get better, she told herself at last, it must get better; I have only to live through this. She did not see that it would get better in some ways, and worse in others, would change its shape and colour through the days and weeks to come so as at all times to possess her mind and ensure her suffering until at last it was pleased to retreat. I must, she thought, just concentrate on what comes next, and try to live through this a decently as I can. She was not British for nothing.

Susannah replaced the receiver and stared at the telephone. So it really had happened. Nicola had lost her lover and her home, just like that, kaput. What vile cruelty. It was like an Act of God in its suddenness, its comprehensiveness, its magnitude; it left one gasping. It was almost enough to make a person start smoking again: one really might as well, considering how many much worse ills awaited one. For several minutes the world looked to Susannah unutterably dreadful. The she went on with her work. She was a picture researcher and at the moment she was attempting to collect together colour transparencies of all the painting of J.-B. Chardin. She picked up one which had arrived in that morning's post and looked at it again through the viewer. The world was unutterably dreadful, but. There might be almost nothing one could do about it, but there was after all something one could do in spite of it. Hallelujah, she said to herself, hallelujah. Whatever that may mean. And so she consoled herself.

The story is told in large chunks of dialogue and somewhat out of chronological sequence. And I think many who have read it have missed a central point in St. John's narrative and reasoning. I'll see if my supposition is borne out as I read, but I have a distinct sense of why this impasse has come, and the reasoning and end is very, very Catholic indeed--if there is enough evidence to support it. Following the important rule of three, I have two references, I'll let you know my hypothesis if the third shows up.

Later: Reading during lunch, I'm gratified to find, quite quickly the third critical reference. I'll share in my review of the book.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on June 8, 2006 2:14 PM.

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