Jonathan Cape, £16.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop
The Engagement, By Chloe Hooper
A woman's erotic association with a wealthy older man provides a different shade of thrill
Friday 25 January 2013
The Australian author Chloe Hooper's second novel is a complex psychological thriller that draws on the rich literary history of madwomen in the attic, from Jane Eyre and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.
Liese Campbell is a young Englishwoman working at her uncle's real-estate agency in Australia, having been made redundant from her job as an interior architect in London. Liese is aimlessly whiling away her life, but her debts are mounting. So when a misunderstanding after an illicit liaison with one of her clients – Alexander Colquhoun, a wealthy, handsome, middle-aged farmer looking for a pied-à-terre in the city – leads to him paying her for her services, she does nothing to set the record straight.
The arrangement becomes regular, the luxury apartments they meet in the stage-sets for their fantasies. Alexander's desire is fuelled by the heady stories Liese concocts of her other clients and their debasing demands, while she discovers the "aphrodisiacal" qualities of a thick wad of banknotes. Then Liese announces she's leaving the country, and Alexander proposes a final long weekend at his house, Warrowill, in the Victoria bush.
Attracted by the unusually large sum on offer, Liese accepts, but as Alexander drives them deeper into the "vast, wild disorder" of the "weather-blasted and dirty and hard" landscape, Liese can smell the "scent of ambush" in the air.
In fittingly Gothic style, Warrowill turns out to be a Victorian mansion built "precisely so one would feel at its mercy". For good measure Hooper throws in locked doors, a wardrobe filled with an unaccounted-for woman's clothes, butchered animals, and a series of poison-pen letters. Liese has been playing a game, the rules of which she thought Alexander knew, but alone in the Outback she finds herself trapped in the fantasies of her own making.
The Engagement is shot through with a deeply erotic charge without being explicitly pornographic. The slow mounting of tension – elevated to something of an art-form in Hooper's nimble hand – is the real S&M experience, reminding us of the fine line between fear and arousal, or "how close a nightmare can be to an exquisite dream". This is a novel about the power of mind-games; fantasies bent "out of shape" and imaginings "gone bad". The Engagement is no Fifty Shades of Grey; its kicks, and kicks in the teeth, are much more subtle.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant