Friday, May 3, 2013



I HAVE no doubt that Chloe Hooper is a very good writer. Her account of the Palm Island ‘murder’ from a few years ago in which Cameron Doomadgee died in a police cell was chilling and absolutely captivating. Her new, second novel of fiction, is called ‘The Engagement.’ Again one couldn’t deny that there is an intelligent writer at work here, capable of some impressively taut and thrilling writing. However, ‘The Engagement’ left me cold and I found it a bit of a chore to get to the end.

Liese Campbell, a 35 year old architect, is the unreliable narrator who has fled London and now works in her uncle’s Melbourne real estate business. Enter Alexander Colquhoun, a wealthy client who becomes more than just a little obsessed with Liese. After having sex in a number of potential rental apartments, Colquhoun pays her an enormous amount of money and takes her to his enormous grazier’s property named Warrowill,  in rural Victoria. Both people- and there is barely anyone else in the novel- continually play intimate mind games which ultimately leave me cold and disinterested. Eventually the games become too tense and serious for Liese, to the point where she feels a strong compulsion to run away, and even fears for her life. Earlier she enjoyed this game of pretending to be a prostitute, until the game became out of her control and Alexander became more of a disturbing prospect than she anticipated. I suppose both Alexander and Liese are unusual and interesting in a way. However, for me the book dragged on, each time making me think something of note or import was going to happen, only to feel let down.

Neither character is warm or attractive in any way. They are both selfish, scheming types and I didn’t at any stage care what happened to either of them. Alexander is by far the most repulsive, not helped by the fact that there is a carcass of a swan he has butchered in the kitchen, and a series of infantile and disturbing letters about Liese he has invented.

The melodrama is contained in the idea that Liese feels more and more desperate to escape, as a claustrophobic metaphorical net is placed over here. Alexander never really seems to lock any doors. Hooper is at her skilful best in that at times it seems that imprisonment is partly of Liese’s own making.  Ultimately, however, the whole ambiguous game is something that I never really at any stage felt I was wanting to buy into.

“It lay on the ground, a black spineless thing with arms and legs outstretched. It seemed to have no eyes. It seemed to have no mouth. It swam in shiny black oil, twitching and wriggling inside a translucent sheath.”

At her best Chloe Hooper is powerful, and one day perhaps, consistently powerful, like an M J Hyland who really knows how to write thrilling prose.
  Chloe Hooper

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