Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Book review: The Engagement, Chloe Hooper (2012)

I have in the past enjoyed Chloe Hooper's writing but I was very disappointed with this novel and didn't make it very far. You're meant to think of Anne Radcliffe and the early gothic novelists, and even the cover directs you there, but like their books - classics, it's true, but practically unreadable now unless with a part of your brain focused on the historical context, particularly the place of women in society - this one's prurient, voyeuristic and artless.

The story is about a young woman, Liese, who is a Brit working in Australia for a relative in real estate sales. One day she meets a wealthy man, Alexander, who is in the market for an upmarket apartment to use for his city visits. For some unaccountable reason Liese starts prostituting herself to this man, serially making assignations for the purpose of bolstering her finances. One day, he invites her to his country property and here things start to go strange. I stopped reading the novel because it is both artless and titillating; I cannot abide violence against women, nothing is more morally reprehensible in my eyes. Things go strange when Alexander for some reason locks Liese inside the house when he goes to check on some stock on the farm. She panics. I closed the book.

It's an artless book although there are plenty of opportunities to use metaphor and other elements of poesis to enrich the narrative. There is a hint of intelligence in the first few pages of the book but this is soon replaced by forensic mentions of stains on pillows. The lack of art is the thing that insulted me the most because it's clear that Hooper can write. I just wish she spent a bit more time before rushing to the pillow stains and the weird male behaviour. Her haste reminded me of the rapidity with which, in porn films, the guy gets his cock stuck into the woman for the purpose of energetic rogering. Then the lingering shots of her boobs swinging as she gets fucked from behind. I assume that this part, in Hooper's book, comes after Alexander returns from crotching lambs or whatever he's doing when he locks her up in his spooky old house.

There's also an unpleasant and unexamined remnant of the allure of old money in this book. The young Brit who opens her legs for cash and the powerful squatter: it's all a bit medieval. Unfortunately, these themes, though as clear as the nose on your face, never get resolved for me because I won't wink at rape.

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