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3.0 out of 5 stars
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3.0 out of 5 stars
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This is a difficult book to review without giving away things that I wouldn't have wanted to know before reading it. Set in modern Australia, it's a slippery read that combines hints of other texts (Hitchcock's Psycho, Rebecca, Jane Eyre) but twists them into perverse and shadowy incarnations of themselves.

Concerned with the accommodations of sex, power, fantasy, money, performance and identity which underpin the institution of marriage, this explores and explodes some of the cultural myths upon which it rests.

With hints of Victoriana, and the re-use of gothic themes, this is mildly creepy, but also darkly funny in a very self-aware way.

Don't read this if you like your books clear, unambiguous and with everything tied up neatly at the end - this remains untrustworthy to the last page and we end the book still unsure over who is the victim, who the winner, whose is the fantasy, and what is the game.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 January 2013
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 "Fifth Shades of Grey" 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.
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on 22 March 2013
An elegant, relatively spare chiller with both literary and suspense attributes that make it a rare and gripping psychological drama well worth checking out. Those unimpressed with this were probably after a bit more S&M: this is far more subtle and impressive than such titillation tat. Chloe Hooper is an often exquisite writer deserving more than the lazy derision most of these reviews comprise.
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'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.

3 Stars.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 February 2015
This is a strange book, one where your understanding of what is going on is stretched by the weirdness of the relationship which can’t ever be said to grow, but which moves over the protagonists in curious ways. As I understand it, a woman, strapped for cash, agrees to visit Alexander Colquhoun in his big old house in the outback. Liese hates her job designing interiors and she’s in need of a steady income. They have a previous relationship based mainly on sex and a history together based on meetings while they are supposed to be surveying properties. It gets very strange as he takes her to his stately pile. Sexual activities are not really described though they do take place. And he gives her money, each time they have sex.

It appears that this younger woman has fuelled his interest by telling him various erotic stories – almost at times falling into the role of prostitution, though it is sometimes ambiguous as to what actually happens. Pretty soon, you are wondering what to believe.

When he introduces the idea that he is receiving letters from people who know her as a person who is a shameless and degraded nymphomaniac she begins to think that he is writing the letters himself as some of the linguistic quirks of the grammar sound like him. But this is a respectable man with standing in his small community.

Then it appears that he has decided to marry her. He gives her an expensive ring and invites some of his friends to meet her. By now she is right under his thumb and she begins to react in confusing and unbalanced ways. At times she wants to escape, but then she almost wants him to dominate her. The ending is as ambiguous as the rest as she breaks down at such cruel and unusual treatment.

The book does not attempt a satisfactory ending, but how could there be such a thing in this infuriating but oddball and compelling story.
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on 27 February 2015
This book reached me by surprise in a recent summer holiday. I was puzzled by the setting of how a man like Alexander Colquhoun who seemed much older and an eccentric would behave towards Liese Campbell in Australia. Actually, the whole attraction was what kept me going as I could not see what was the appeal this eccentric man had in that young woman.

She was a beautiful woman, I can get that, but if you pay for someone to satisfy your fantasy, why ask them to your home? Why do expose your life to someone like that? I was even more curious. I wanted to find out how this story would end, how would this quiet man behave in his home? What surprises he had for Liese and how would she react?

I am really glad I read this book. Most of the story happens with only these two characters and you are never bored. I loved seeing Liese's reaction to everything Alexander did, what he said, how he behaved and how vulnerable she felt. She could not decide if he was attractive or not, but could not do anything to free from his charms, because he was charming and intriguing.

I cannot say how much I loved every word of this story. I never guessed the end, I never guessed Alexander's real intentions towards Liese and I never guessed her feelings for him. It was a total surprise. Until now, weeks after finishing this book (it took me 3 days and I was on a holiday in sunny Italy), I keep trying to figure this man out. A wonderful read.
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on 7 March 2015
As somebody already said there are definite Hitchcockian themes here with a dark Victorian feel too. This is my first time reading the author and I really enjoyed this though there are one or two holes that niggled at me, don't want to mention them in fear of spoiling anything but ultimately I took pleasure in this puzzling, esoteric journey into the world of a twisted Australian mindset that is a long, long way from Summer Bay and Ramsey Street.
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on 14 August 2016
I do not like being forced to recommend anything. I could not get off this page except by doing so. Thus to show my dissatisfaction with the process I have given a derisory score
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on 11 May 2013
I enjoyed this book although it wasn't an easy read. Elements of 'Jane Eyre' with an unconventional estate owner living in a brooding, gothic mansion. The characters are quite unsympathetic, which makes it a little difficult to care over-much. However, the narrative voice was interesting - unreliable, hysterical even. It left you wondering what precisely did happen and why.
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on 23 June 2013
'The Engagement' for me was odd from beginning to end. I did find that the beginning was quite gripping but then it slowed down and became boring until it picked up in the final two chapters again. It follows Liese who thinks she is having a financially rewarding weekend where all she has to do is have sex with Alexander but he has other ideas and his behaviour gets more and more out of control and Liese's situation becomes more desperate. At times this book is very ambiguous and it is not always clear what is going on and at other times it is the most gripping book I have read but this does not last for long. It was a good read for its length, it certainly should not be any longer and I read it quickly but I would not recommend it to anyone.
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