Jonathan Cape £16.99

Review: The Engagement, By Chloe Hooper

Why one's narrator should not get into cars with strange men

In the opening paragraph of Part Two of this patchy, frustrating psychological thriller, our narrator, Liese Campbell, says this: "How naive I'd been, how ridiculously naive."

Those seven words neatly encapsulate all that is wrong with The Engagement. There is much to admire in Chloe Hooper's writing, but the novel is let down by a narrator whose ongoing blindness to the danger in which she places herself becomes increasingly annoying, to the point where I felt it should more accurately have been titled "The Enragement".

Liese is an English woman in her twenties who has fled from her homeland to Melbourne. In her former life, she was a jobbing architect who had built up a pile of debt. When we meet her she is slumming it at her uncle's estate agency, showing prospective buyers around properties. She also uses these empty properties for sexual liaisons with Alexander Colquhoun, an earthy but rich farmer who pays her handsomely for the privilege. Liese accepts the money with one eye on her credit card bills, and allows him to believe she's a prostitute.

She has had just about enough of this arrangement, though, and is planning on escaping again, this time to Asia. But the book opens with her receiving a letter from Alexander offering her a large amount of money (we never find out exactly how much) to come and spend a long weekend at his country pile before she leaves Australia.

Liese expresses doubts about Alexander's obsessive nature on page one, and further doubts are incrementally drip-fed to the reader during a series of flashbacks detailing the pair's sexual encounters. Cumulatively, they amount to a level of concern that would have any sane person running screaming to the nearest police station for protection.

But not so for Liese, who happily jumps into Alexander's Mercedes and journeys to the back of beyond with him, without telling anyone where she's going and without any kind of escape plan, should the situation get messy. Oh, and there's no mobile phone reception, naturally.

Sure enough, on arrival at Alexander's dilapidated Victorian mansion, it turns out that his sexual obsession with Liese goes way beyond anything she had anticipated, and she finds herself in a whole heap of trouble.

The prose drips with a certain amount of Gothic menace, and Hooper's powers of description, especially of Alexander's creaky old house, are strong. She conjures up plenty of atmosphere, but any tension is punctured by the heavy-handed dialogue and clumsy interactions of the novel's two main players. The menace spills over into a melodramatic campness, especially during a ridiculous dinner party, late on, in which character motivations and behaviours fly out of the window.

The subject of sexual obsession is ripe for examination, of course, and Hooper's implication that Liese is complicit in her downfall is intriguing. But such things have to be housed in a plot that doesn't stretch the credulity of the reader beyond breaking point. Hooper's previous book, The Tall Man, which received praise from Philip Roth and Peter Carey as well as winning several prizes, was a work of non-fiction. Hooper might be able to tell a true story, but on this evidence, she struggles to write a believable fictional one.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'