All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Engagement – Chloe Hooper

on September 8, 2012

The Engagement
Chloe Hooper
Penguin AU
2012, 247p
Bought at Melbourne Writers Festival

Liese Campbell is a British woman in her 30s who lost her job as an architect due to the financial crisis and made her way out to Australia where she’s been working in Melbourne for her uncle’s real estate business. Most recently she’s been showing Alexander Colquhoun properties. Alexander is the heir of a pastoral dynasty in country Victoria near the Grampians and lately he’s been looking for a city crash pad.

The luxury apartments Liese has been showing Alexander don’t seem to be to his taste – so she keeps finding more. And lately they’ve been the scenes of a mutually satisfying relationship that is also helping to pay Liese’s credit card debt. In other people’s homes while the occupants are out, they play out fantasies.

Now Alexander has invited Liese out to his country property – isolated, a once majestic Victorian-inspired mansion going to ruin, surrounded by mountains and bushland. The amount of money he has named for her company for the weekend is generous and Liese is only too happy to accept, seeing her bills continuing to decline. But once they arrive, she starts to have the smallest feelings of trepidation. Feelings that grow.

The game has changed – Liese thought they both understood the rules but it seems as though Alexander is playing his own game now. Without a way to escape, Liese finds herself an unwilling pawn in whatever game it is that he’s now playing.

The Engagement is Australian author Chloe Hooper’s third novel, her second fiction novel. It was, as described by Hooper in her Melbourne Writers’ Festival event, as a modern-day gothic tale borrowing from some old tropes: a helpless young woman, a creepy house seemingly with a life of its own, a forced engagement. It’s been described as erotic, a thriller and a literary version of 50 Shades of Grey. It’s mostly that last one that I have a problem with. Because it’s not. Actually, it’s not even particularly close.

It seems now that anything that might contain a sex scene that borders on being even finitely kink, is going to get a comparison to 50 Shades of Grey. And yes, that’s the buzz book of the moment, it’s sold over a million copies in Australia and apparently sells at a rate of 2000 copies per week. It’s sold over 20 million copies in America and is the biggest selling book of all time, outselling Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code, etc. But that does not mean that it’s something new and different, nor does it mean that every book after it need be compared to it.

The Engagement is a dark novel, written to expertly build the tension. It is a tale with an unreliable narrator, where you question everything that Liese is telling you, where you question Alexander is doing and saying, where you wonder what exactly you are supposed to believe. Who is playing the game? Are they both playing the game? Is something infinitely more sinister going on or is it all just an elaborate hoax designed to tap into two people’s secret fantasies, given a chance to play out? The questions rocketed through my mind reading it, I was alternatively convinced that Liese was about to get chopped up into tiny pieces and buried at the foot of the Grampians or that she was going to fleece Alexander for everything he did (or possibly didn’t) have. I read The Engagement at night, alone, after my kids had gone to bed and my husband was at work. The story hooked me from the first page, but the characterisation was even more fascinating:

Even at the best of times, I knew I came across as disconnected. I was there, but not there; often more aroused by the thought of intercourse than by the act itself, presenting my body at the outset so as to say, You can have this but no more. Then, after the physical act was over, something shattered. Almost immediately the man beside me seemed to be covered in tiny blemishes, and he was a little overweight, and painted with sweat, and he was there. Right there. I would have to try to be sensitive, acting as if I didn’t already want to be alone.

The Engagement is a deliciously dark and provocative tale that I do think will have a wide fan base – there’s a lot here to satisfy people who enjoy different types of books. If you like the idea of a gothic tale with a house and landscape that take on a life of their own, I can recommend this one. If you like the idea of a thriller that keeps you turning the pages because you have to know what is going to happen, how this game is going to end, pick up this book. However if you like 50 Shades Of Grey and think that this is just a more ‘literary’ version of that story then I would not advise you to choose this book. I do think the two are very different, in terms of writing and story line and also in terms of character depth and motivation. This isn’t a romance novel. It’s gritty and explores the trappings of money, power and sex in a pscyhological way more than a physical way. There are no real sex scenes in the book and I didn’t find it a sexually erotic book. I found it more thoughtfully erotic, in terms of a power play, a struggle between two characters.

If I had one quibble with this book, it was the quick ending – I’d have liked a little more length, a little more time taken because I’m that sort of person who loves closure and everything neatly resolved. Even though I felt it lacked a bit for me personally, I do acknowledge that it does work for the book.

8/10

Book #170 of 2012

The Engagement is the 54th novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012


12 responses to “The Engagement – Chloe Hooper

  1. Great review I’ll have to keep an eye out for it

  2. Agree – the comparison to FSoG is ridiculous!

  3. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out says:

    I wasn’t tempted by the blurb of this novel but I am intrigued by your review

  4. Gailene says:

    Oooh I can’t wait to read this one, especially after just reading your review. Thank you

  5. I love these kinds of stories – sadly, this one isn’t available to me until January, and in hardcover! 😦

    I totally agree: I am so SICK of every slightly erotic book being compared to Fifty Shades – or of any book being compared to it! As if people weren’t writing these stories before EL James, and writing better stories. I mean, Fifty Shades was fun at the time, but let’s move on, please!! I think I’m actually offended, that better-written books are being compared, and sold through publicity by being compared to, James’ trilogy. On the one hand, I’m discovering a lot of new books because they’re popping up more, or getting more attention. But I’d rather it be on their own merits, not because the genre is suddenly popular. (And Fifty Shades wasn’t even erotica! It was erotic romance, and there’s such a big difference!)

    (this has been really bugging me lately, as you can tell… 😉 )

    • It bugs me too and not just because I didn’t enjoy 50 Shades. I disagree anytime books are compared relentlessly to the current “big thing” especially when it’s really a stretch – and to be honest, this book IS a stretch. They’re two very, very different stories. And you’re right – 50 Shades is nothing new, nothing original as such. Erotic romance has been around for a very, very long time and there are plenty of books out there that are quite similar, with a range of different writing levels. It annoys me because it does seem that people are trying to use 50 Shades in order to say “hey this book is like it, but BETTER” when people who love 50 Shades and may buy these books because of that, are going to find these books very different. Because they are.

  6. […] Hooper’s psychological thriller, The Engagement, has a number of admirers, including Bree at allthebooksicanread, Monique at Write Note Reviews, Rebecca at Lit-icism and Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest.  […]

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