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Book Review: The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan


The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

A diamond is forever. That’s the marketing slogan invented by the real life Mary Frances Gerety in 1947 . Her invention is the opening of this fascinating novel, one that follows five separate stories that encompass all aspects of marriage – the ones that endure and the ones that are derailed by affairs and divorce – and the diamond engagement ring in each of these stories takes centre stage – from the late 40s when most women would have preferred a new washing machine to something so frivolous, to more recent times when the diamond engagement ring is considered an absolute necessity, although one character rails against the trend and raises the issue of blood diamonds.

Set in 1972, Evelyn who has been married for forty years, is struggling with the breakup of her son’s marriage to the woman she has always considered the perfect daughter-in-law. But her own story emerges, one that casts a new light on her disappointment. Meanwhile in 1987 James is struggling to get ahead in life and thinks his wife could have done better – he feels the ultimate loser – especially when he isn’t there to protect his wife when she is mugged and her engagement ring and other things are stolen. In 2003 Delphine recounts a year- long affair that has gone terribly wrong, but loses the engagement ring she was given that she intended to give back to her ex-lover. Meanwhile in 2012, Kate is caught up in a family wedding, despite her vow never to marry herself, and there is plenty of drama about the rings on the day. And then there is the story of Mary Frances Gerety who created the initial demand for diamonds with her clever advertising.

This is a well crafted book that goes from 1927 until today. It has complex characters and a palpable sense of place and time. It is an intriguing premise to have some sort of sparkly diamond engagement ring as the recurring motif, a stone that has been marketed to be desirable for our romantic hopes and dreams.

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