The Engagements – J. Courtney Sullivan
Finally a novel which is centred on romance yet does not take it as a given or sensationalise it!
The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan is a breath of fresh air in a book market which continues to be saturated by hyperbolic declarations of love and stereotypical narratives.
Set over the course of five different decades The Engagements explores love through the lives of five individuals. First we are introduced to Frances in 1947, a talented copy writer who has chosen not to marry and puts all her effort into her career. Ironically she coins advertisements convincing men and women that a diamond engagement ring is a necessity rather than a choice. We then swiftly move to 1972 where Evelyn is reeling from her son and daughter in law’s recent marriage breakup, we then learn the unusual circumstances which led to Evelyn marrying her husband.
James is the main male character in the novel; he struggles to live up to his high school reputation which has an impact upon his marriage. He feels he is not good enough for his wife as they struggle to make ends meet in the 1980s. The exquisite Delphine (my favourite character) lives in Paris with her music loving husband Henri, she is then swept off her feet by a talented violinist. It leaves her wondering whether a marriage she once thought was stale and suffocating is ultimately a comfort to her. And to bring us into the modern era is Kate, a worrier who refuses to marry her long term partner and father to her child. She has an almost bohemian quality to her and her narrative focuses on her homosexual cousin getting married.
I loved all the characters; I felt each narrative could have been developed into their own novel. I especially loved Delphine; I felt Sullivan made her narrative so authentic and vivid that she made me wish I was French!
I am excited that there is a film to follow however I do hope that it stays true to the novel and is it not given a Hollywood makeover.
This is a book for all ages and will be staying on my book shelf. It really is a fascinating read not only because Sullivan has researched heavily into all decades and societies she presents thus making it realistic but because we get a chance to gain an insight into private relationships and the institution of marriage. Sullivan encourages us to realise all partnerships are unique – what works for one couple may not work for someone else – relationships are private and special.
Another aspect which got me really thinking was how we may believe and hope society has progressed but is this just an illusion? The fact Kate’s homosexual cousin is finally able to marry his partner due to the change in gay marriage laws obviously demonstrates progression and liberalism but Kate is still ridiculed just as Frances was in 1947 for not being married.
Essentially Sullivan presents the argument that a diamond ring is a bone of contention whether you have one or not and sadly this may always be the case.