Saturday, 19 October 2013

Book review : The Engagements - J. Courtney Sullivan

When I saw the title "The Engagements" and the huge picture of a diamond ring on the front, I thought I knew what to expect : chick lit. However, the old adage about not judging a book by its cover is very apt here.

I must admit, I almost gave up with the book about a quarter of the way through, not because it's badly written but because I got the impression that it was a series of short stories. I always find short stories to be the literary equivalent of pre-dinner nibbles - however much you enjoy them, they never really fill you up and you end up wanting to move on to something more substantial and satisfying. But then I realised that all these totally separate stories, introducing totally unrelated characters and periods, were starting to become intricately entwined. My curiosity was piqued and I'm so glad I continued reading to the end.

The book begins with a young female copywriter, Mary Frances Gerety, in post-World War II Boston, trying to find her place in the "man's world" of PR, working on the advertising account for De Beer's diamonds. She penned the unforgettable (but at the time largely underrated) line "A diamond is forever" and set about convincing a nation, and indeed the world, that all women wanted a diamond and that giving diamond engagement and wedding rings was a tradition as well as a status symbol.

Well, diamonds may be forever but people and relationships often aren't, so the novel follows a series of love (and hate) stories, from happily-ever-after marriages to messy break-ups, newly legalised same sex weddings to unthinkably embarrassing and unconventional (at the time) divorces, lonely spinsterhood and unashamed adultery. The chapters jump around over a couple of continents and almost an entire century but the novel is always easy to follow because the characters are so different and definite products of their time.

By turns poignant and amusing, it's an interesting look at love and relationships through the years, with changing prospects and mentalities, partly due to shifts in society's perspectives but also with a few gentle nudges from the advertising executives and their well placed double page spreads. It does offer tales of romance but also a healthy dose of cynicism. Above all, it will make you think and it offers interesting snapshots into the lives of ordinary people. If jewellery could talk, these are the tales that the diamonds would tell as they are handed down through the generations.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £14.99

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (4 July 2013)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1844089363
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844089369
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.8 x 3.6 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Book review : Red Sparrow - Jason Matthews

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