What a strange book; I really have no idea what to make of it.
The Engagement tells the story of Liese, an English woman who is retrenched from her job as an architect, who moves to Australia and finds work as a real estate agent in Melbourne. In this job she meets Alexander, a member of the squattocracy, a bachelor looking for a pied à terre. They have sex in one of the properties she shows him; he concludes her real estate job is a front for her prostitution and so he pays her. She sees his misunderstanding as an opportunity to pay her substantial debts and so she doesn’t disabuse him. Their relationship and the plot get murkier from there.
The blurb on the Bolinda audio edition says ‘…this is a psychological thriller for the modern age, one which explores the snares of money and love, and the dark side of the erotic imagination’. I don’t know. Perhaps. If Alexander’s desire to simultaneously hire, rescue, and punish Liese is to be believed. Liese is an unreliable narrator, and ‘psychological’ seems to mean someone–Alexander? His mother? His sister? Liese?–has a vaguely-defined mental illness that is expressed through violence and manipulation.
The Goodreads summary compares The Engagement to Surrealist Luis Buñel’s film Belle de Jour. On the one hand, there is certainly a part-time prostitute character; on the other hand, I’m not convinced that deliberate obfuscation about key artefacts, such as the damning letters and photographs addressed to Alexander and Liese respectively, is the same as the philosophical resolution to Séverine and Pierre Serizy’s intimacy issues. It just feels as though Hooper didn’t really know how to resolve the various threads she set in motion.
The audio book was read well by Jane Nolan, if with some often-distracting long vowels.