The Engagement by Chloe Hooper
|The Engagement by Chloe Hooper|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Robin Leggett|
|Summary: Gothic, psychological thriller that concerns sexual fantasies colliding in a creepy, remote Australian farm. Provocative and creepy, if a little unbelievable at times.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: January 2013|
|Publisher: Jonathan Cape|
Chloe Hooper's gothic, psychological thriller concerns an affair between a thirty-something English girl, Liese, working in Australia at her uncle's real estate business and a blandly handsome Australian farmer, Alexander. Set over one weekend as Liese is heading to Alexander's remote family farm for the first time for a weekend of passion, this is a classic 'girl trapped in spooky house and situation' story with a dark, sexual twist. Liese, who trained as an interior architect, met Alexander while showing him around exclusive Melbourne properties and, has somehow managed to get herself into a situation whereby Alexander pays her for her attentions, believing that she is some kind of prostitute. He's even paying her handsomely for her time at the weekend. With debts of her own, Liese willingly encourages this perception with little idea of the problems to which this fantasy will lead.
The Engagement covers many of the issues that made Fifty Shades Of Grey by EL James the fiction blockbuster of 2012; namely what is it that women fantasise about and why? However, it's a very different type of book and is more layered and nuanced than EL James's romp. It's more than a literary, Australian Fifty Shades of G'day. Indeed in terms of literary heritage, it probably owes more to Arthur Schnitzler's Dream Story, the short story that gave rise to the movie Eyes Wide Shut.
Hooper explores a number of fantasy scenarios: the escapism attractions of role play; the sex slave; the ideal bride; and, when it comes to Alexander's motives, the salvation of the fallen woman. Indeed it is when Hooper introduces Alexander's motives that the story becomes genuinely scary as it is no longer clear who is in charge of 'game' and the different fantasies, and realities, start to merge and collide.
Hooper is good too at the realistic elements. She describes the fallen grandeur of the old family bush farmstead and nature of Western Victoria well and in particular she sustains the narrator's interest in architecture and interiors superbly, with Liese always attuned to build environment. While it takes something of a leap of faith to imagine how Liese first got herself into playing the role of paid sex worker (it's not, after all, a self help book), her motives once she has found herself in this position are believable and the reader can understand how she finds herself deeper and deeper into the situation.
As Liese's situation spins more and more out of control, the tension builds and it is far from clear how the story will play out until the final pages. In truth there are several moments when the reader has to go with artistic licence rather than logic to support the story's development, and you will probably find yourself thinking 'why doesn't she ...' at several points, but what Liese really wants becomes more clear to her as the story goes on. At some level, she doesn't want to escape. Alexander's intentions remain more mysterious throughout and although Liese tells us he is attractive, he comes over as plain creepy most of the time.
If you give in to the story though, it does achieve that heart-racing tension that the best gothic fiction achieves. At the very least, Liese's stories of her year travelling will prove to be a lot more entertaining that those of most people. It's a satisfyingly creepy, if slightly daft, escapist story.
Our grateful thanks to the kind people at Jonathan Cape for sending us this book.
For more architectural design meets fiction cross over, Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles is well worth seeking out, while for more Australian fiction, The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas is similarly provocative.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Engagement by Chloe Hooper at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Engagement by Chloe Hooper at Amazon.com.
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