A Stairway to Paradise by Madeleine St John

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Courtesy of Text Publishing
First published in 1999 and
re-release in 2010, Madeleine St John’s final novel is the tale of three
friends locked in a love triangle with no easy way out.
Setting of A
Stairway to Paradise
Although born in Sydney, St
John spent much of her adult life in London, in particularly Notting Hill, and
it is here amongst the upper-middle class that this novel is based.
A Stairway to Paradise is loosely part of a trilogy formed by her previous
novels A Pure Clear Light (1996) and The Essence of the Thing (1997) that are
all set in north London.
Characters in A
Stairway to Paradise
Andrew has just returned
from ten years teaching in the United States. He has left behind a broken
marriage and a child he can only see once a year for a month in the summer.
Alex is an old friend from
Oxford days who is locked in a loveless marriage with Claire, but stays with
his wife out of a sense of duty to his young children.
Both men are in love with Barbara
but she is in love with the man that she cannot have. Barbara is portrayed as a
beautiful free spirit who loves to travel and has never had a “real job”. She works
as a nanny and a cook for the rich set in north London. It is in this role in
Alex’s house that the two fall in love.
Themes in A
Stairway to Paradise
St John covers a number of
themes in A Stairway to Paradise,
namely how hard it is for many people to articulate what they really feel about
the person they love.  Andrew is too much
the nice guy with wonderful social manners and is unable to articulate his real
feelings for Barbara so his desires go unfulfilled and his role in the triangle
is minor.
It is through Alex and
Barbara that the real story plays out. The themes of what we are prepared or
not prepared to give up for love are throughout the novel.
Alex, the somewhat dislikeable
character of the three, is desperately in love with Barbara and happy to have
an affair with her but he will not leave his family and puts the stability of
his children first.  “I have a wife and
two children and a household to maintain: those are the givens.” 
For all her free spirit,
playing the mistress is not enough for Barbara and so she leaves both Alex and
the country to travel across the world broken hearted and disillusioned.
A Stairway to Paradise is a simple story that places emotions under the
microscope. The book is dense with dialogue but it is clear and clean, which
makes this an easy read.
About Madeleine St John
Madeleine St John was born
in Sydney in 1963 and died in London in 2006. A Stairway to Paradise is
her fourth novel and the final one before she passed away.  Her other novels include The Women in Black, A Pure
Clear Light
and The Essence of the
Thing
, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1997
A Stairway to Paradise (Text Publishing Melbourne, 1999, ISBN
9781921656118, 192 pages.)  A Stairway to
Paradise was re-released in 2010 and follows the success of the 2009 re-release
of The Women in Black.

My rating: ★★★

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