The thing that irks me about books like Fifty Shades of Grey is the all the knock-offs they spawn. After the success of Fifty Shades, the new release section of book shops will be crowded with ‘mummy porn’ for months and months. It happens time and time again – for years it seemed the only middle readers that were dished up were books about wizards and the YA market apparently only wants stories about vampires. On that basis, you may wonder why I even picked up The Engagement by Chloe Hooper. Well, it was this article that grabbed my attention – the author herself is quoted saying “Don’t tell me I’ve just done a literary ‘Fifty Shades of Grey”’.
The Engagement is described by the publisher as “…a taut psychological thriller in which the deft blurring of reality and dark fantasy rivals that of Luis Bunuel’s classic Belle de Jour.”
It’s about a young English architect, Liese Campbell, in flight from the financial crisis and working at her uncle’s real-estate business in Melbourne. Alexander Colquhoun, the well-mannered heir of a pastoral dynasty, is looking for a city apartment. Very quickly, Liese redefines the term ‘client’ when it comes to Alexander. The luxury apartments Liese shows him become sets for a relationship that satisfies their fantasies – and helps pay her debts. It’s a game. Both players understand the rules. Or so she thinks. Alexander takes Liese to his property in western Victoria for the weekend. Here Liese senses a change in Alexander, and realises a different game has begun.
“‘Well…’ I smiled, as though touched he cared. He wanted me to fall for him – or to act it out, at least. He was paying to woo me, a routine much more intricate than pretending we’d never met before and would never meet again.”
I really don’t want to go down the ‘compare and contrast with FSoG route’ with this book but given that many people will pick it up with FSoG expectations, I feel I have to (will Chloe Hooper rue the day she said what she did about FSoG?!).
Firstly, one of the things that was exceedingly annoying about FSoG was the apparent ABSENCE of an editor. It was so badly written and I can’t see how anyone could argue otherwise. The Engagement, on the other hand, is very well written and well-edited. The story builds quickly and the characters tread that careful line of letting the reader in, letting you know them, but retaining some mystery.
“If I gave myself up to this man he could make me whomever he wanted me to be – including no one.”
Second point of comparison – there are NO sex scenes in The Engagement. Sex between Liese and Alexander is alluded to and mentioned but no one will be embarrassed reading this book on the train! Interestingly, the fact that the story isn’t filled with explicit sex scenes makes it far more sexier than something like FSoG in my opinion.
I loved the setting, perhaps because the Western District is a place I’m familiar with. The Grampians make a perfect, gothic back drop for the story and scattered throughout the book are beautifully written references to the land and farming –
“Out of the truck windows there was chaos on either side, the vegetation dense and scrappy. We rushed past bursts of brilliant yellow wattle, bushes with brilliant pod-like extrusions, and bulbous pigmy trees erupting in countless long green spikes – plants all designed in a radical workshop. Nowhere in England would you move so fast from pastoral land into vast, wild disorder.”
I also really enjoyed reading a suspense novel – not my usual genre. There’s no question that this book had me up late, reading well into the night.
“But resistance only heightened his enjoyment, and wrestling the knot, I tightened it.”
My only criticism of The Engagement was the ending. I can’t say too much (I have a ‘no spoilers’ policy) but it left me wondering… Maybe that’s the point!
There is a scene in the book where Alexander cooks a roast. Once you’ve read it, you’ll never forget it. I’m pairing The Engagement with Jamie Oliver’s Fantastic Roast Chicken because it is fantastic, as is this book.
4/5 Every time I hear someone mention FSoG, I’m going to tell them to put it down immediately and instead pick up The Engagement. Note that I will also be telling people who wouldn’t dream of picking up FSoG to read The Engagement.