Top critical review
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on 30 January 2013
'The Engagement' is Australian author, Chloe Hooper's, third novel and is complex and gripping psychological thriller with an erotic current running throughout the course of the story.
Liese Campbell, a young Englishwoman, who having been made redundant from her job in London as an interior architect, has come to Australia and is working at her uncle's estate agency to try and earn some money to clear her mounting debts. Liese finds showing prospective buyers around luxury apartments tedious and uninspiring, but then she meets Alexander Colquhoun, a good-looking, but reticent farmer in his mid-forties, looking for a pied-à-terre in the city. Whilst showing Alexander around one of the apartments one day, Liese, on a whim, initiates sex with him and when he mistakes the situation and offers her money for her services, Liese does nothing to disabuse Alexander of his misunderstanding that she is a prostitute. This sexual encounter is the first in what becomes a becomes a regular occurrence, as they meet up in the properties for sale that Liese has access to, and where both of them act out their sexual fantasies. However, Liese has no intention of staying long term in Australia and she makes plans to leave as soon as she has accumulated enough money, so she is surprised, therefore, when shortly before she leaves, Alexander writes to her and offers her a huge sum of money to spend the weekend with him on his farm in the bush. Finding the large sum of money difficult to refuse, Liese accepts, but when she arrives at Alexander's remote home, a Victorian Gothic mansion totally out of place in its scrubby surroundings, and finds herself locked in the house and a wardrobe full of of another woman's possessions, she realises that what she thought of as a weekend of financially rewarded sex, turns out to be nothing like she had envisaged.....
Attractively presented and with some good descriptions of setting and situation, this story of mind-games, control and sexual fantasies is an unsettling, yet strangely compelling read and, perhaps, a cautionary tale about the love of money and the dangers of entering unthinkingly into the dark side of erotic imagination. Although not entirely convincing and not my usual kind of reading fare, I found this an oddly absorbing, if somewhat unsatisfying story, which pulled me in and kept me turning the pages until I finished it a couple of hours after starting it.