The Engagements by J Courtney Sullivan

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The Engagements by J Courtney Sullivan

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A well-researched story told from multiple view points which is probably one of those rare books which will be better on a second reading. Recommended. J Courtney Sullivan popped in to Bookbag Tower to chat to us about Eavesdropping.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: July 2013
Publisher: Virago
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1844089369

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Although you might not immediately realise it, this is the story of a ring, the people associated with it and of one particular real woman who created something of which few people can be unaware. That woman was Mary Frances Gerety, a copywriter with Ayer and Son - one of of the eminent advertising agencies in the nineteen forties. Under some pressure to come up with a phrase for de Beers adverts, Frances scribbled A Diamond is Forever - one of the most memorable lines in advertising. Frances never married but was probably single-handedly responsible for diamonds being the favoured stone in engagement rings. Her story weaves its way through the stories of our fictional couples.

At first I thought I was reading a book of short stories with a theme of diamonds, engagements and relationships running through them. They were reasonably engaging (sorry!), but I'll confess that I could have found it all too easy to put down on the basis of I'll pick it up when I'm short of something to read. But gradually the people started to reappear and I discovered a real interest in what was happening to them. It was Evelyn Pearsall who first hooked me: happily married for some time but with something of an unusual marital history, she's distraught that her son is breaking up his marriage with little concern for his wife and children. Evelyn stands to lose her daughter-in-law and her two grandchildren.

Then we meet the gay couple and their relations as they prepare for the wedding - and we see Courtney Sullivan's skill with the delicious phrase as the cousin of one of the grooms explains:

It doesn't exactly align with our beliefs, but a gay wedding is a teachable moment. It's a coup these days to get your kids invited to one.

You now know all you need to know about May. There's a lovely humour as she's neatly contrasted with her sister, Kate - a social crusader with an aversion to much that May holds dear. Including Pop Tarts. In a less salubrious part of the country, James is a paramedic, struggling to make enough money to keep body and soul together. On her way home with the groceries his wife was mugged and her diamond ring stolen. It just adds to the hole in the kitchen ceiling and all their other problems. In Paris Delphine and Henri meet over a business deal, but will it turn into a love match?

I'll get my quibbles out of the way quickly. I did, on occasion think that I was being lectured - about diamonds, about what paramedics do for instance and whilst it doesn't amount to shoehorning in every last bit of research it did feel over the top. Also, the stories flit back and forth through the years and the attempt to tie them down with references to world news felt contrived and occasionally clumsy. It could have been done with more subtlety.

On the other hand the plot construction is masterly. For about the first third the book didn't sing to me as I'd expected after reading Maine then I settled in and enjoyed the stories of the couples - but particularly the true story of Frances Gerety, but it's in the final fifty or so pages that the book really grabbed me and my immediate reaction was that I wanted to turn back to the beginning and start again. It's one of those rare books which will be better on a second reading. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Another (completely different) book which where the story comes from multiple view points which gradually reveal the wider story is the Booker longlisted The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan.

Buy The Engagements by J Courtney Sullivan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Engagements by J Courtney Sullivan at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Engagements by J Courtney Sullivan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Engagements by J Courtney Sullivan at Amazon.com.


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