Paperback reviews: 'The Engagement', 'The Fun Parts' 'The Sports Gene', 'Cairo', 'It’s Not Rocket Science'

 

'The Engagement' by Chloe Hooper (Vintage £8.99)

Chloe Hooper’s unsettling psychological thriller is a modern version of “Bluebeard”. Liese Campbell is an out-of-work architect who’s maxed out her credit cards and is heavily in debt; fleeing to Melbourne, she gets a job in her uncle’s estate agents’ firm, showing prospective tenants around crappy modern apartments. More or less on a whim, she tumbles into bed with one of them – a wealthy farmer named Alexander, who’s looking for a flat in the city – and when he offers her cash afterwards, she accepts, and soon finds herself playing the role of a prostitute to him. Except that he doesn’t know it’s a role play. Before she returns to England, he asks her to come to stay with him in his country mansion, miles from anywhere in the middle of 7,000 acres of farmland. She accepts. Big mistake.

The style is plain and lucid, with beautifully accurate word-choice, and plenty of grace-notes that one pauses to appreciate – like the description of the rams on the farm “formally dressed with their horns on’”; or, when Alexander exhibits anger, “I felt resentment coming up from the ground like it was a kind of crop”.

For most of its length this is a two-hander, with the lovers/adversaries locked in a queasy power struggle, while the reader tries to work out who’s lying, and who’s deluded, and how the hell Liese is going to get out of there. The dialogue is tense, naturalistic, edgy, like a series of rallies between two tennis players who both hate and respect one another. It’s a highly intelligent, unpredictable, very grown-up, and crazily readable novel about sex and power and deception. Pity Alfred Hitchcock never got the chance to make a film of it.

'The Fun Parts' by Sam Lipsyte (Granta £8.99)

A junkie decides to write a children’s book about Marvelous Marvin Hagler. A kindergarten teacher-cum-poet wants a baby and attracts the interest of the “crypto-creepy” multi-millionaire dad of one of her charges. A straight guy gets a lesbian into bed by dint of his amazingly expressive face, which is able to wordlessly convey the idea of “Penis as Pure Novelty”. Then there’s the disturbed adolescent known as the Dungeon Master, who oversees the fantasy gaming of a bunch of younger kids and sadistically ensures every game has a painful and/or humiliating ending. None of these 13 short stories leaves a sweet taste in the mouth, and there’s a definite “look-at-me” quality about the writing – but they’re undeniably clever, and linguistically inventive. The word-choice is deliberately unexpected, sometimes perversely so (sample: “Exemplars of encroaching gnarlitude did ghoulish waltzes” – though, to be fair, that is supposed to be humorous). Overall verdict: easy to admire, hard to love.

'The Sports Gene' by David Epstein (Yellow jersey Press £8.99)

In this highly entertaining and enlightening study of what makes for athletic success, the sports journalist David Epstein asks whether it’s nature or nurture – and concludes that it’s 100 per cent both. There are chapters on why Jamaican sprinters are such world-beaters, why male athletes out-perform female ones, why there are so many “intersex” female athletes, and why there was a “Big Bang” in the diversity of body types in elite sports – at the start of the 20th century, an Olympic shot putter and an Olympic high jumper would have had pretty similar physiques; not so by the end of it. Advice for would-be champions boils down to two things: choose your parents carefully, and put in your 10,000 hours of practice.

'Cairo' by Ahdaf Soueif (Bloomsbury £8.99)

Cairo is the novelist Ahdaf Soueif’s evocative account of the “18 golden days” between 25 January and 11 February 2011, when President Mubarak’s regime was toppled by a popular uprising. Much has happened since then. At first, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces seemed friendly to the revolution; but they were slow to relinquish power and were only removed after much bloodshed. That was Revolution II. Then the Muslim Brotherhood took over, and turned out to be as corrupt and unjust as Mubarak, and had to be removed in Revolution III. This is an unfinished story, but that first, glorious, 18-day revolution offers grounds for optimism to those, like Soueif, who are still fighting for “bread, freedom, and social justice”.

'It’s Not Rocket Science' by Ben Miller (Sphere £7.99)

Ben Miller was studying for a PhD in physics at Cambridge until he was lured into a career in comedy. This book is an homage to his first love, written in as deliberately accessible and unscholarly a manner as possible, aimed at the reader who knows bugger-all about science and is missing out on the excitement. Miller explains how we know that we’re falling towards a black hole, explores the physics of cake-baking, and speculates that though we are probably the only intelligent species in the Milky Way as yet, we are the ancestors of future Klingons. The style is at times a bit over-jocular, but it’s a readable and engaging bid to throw a bridge between the two cultures.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn