Published by Vintage
Publication date: May 20th 2014
J. Courtney Sullivan returns, this time turning her insightful eyes to a subject dear to many women’s hearts and one that epitomizes the eternal hope of love, diamonds. In her latest novel, The Engagements, we meet Frances Gerety, the woman who, in the 1950s, created one of the most celebrated slogans of the century: A Diamond is Forever. Frances and her work with DeBeers becomes the cornerstone of the novel despite the fact that she is one of the few characters that chooses never to marry but devotes herself to her career instead. While she is happy coming up with new and ingenious ways to convince women that a diamond is the ultimate proof of commitment, it is not something she believes in for herself.
Sullivan’s narrative is split between Frances and four couples, each with their own timeline and story about engagement rings. Splitting a novel in such a way can be risky, as giving characters a chapter and then switching the narrative and the time period can leave readers unable to feel involved with the characters or disinterested in following the story to its end. With her richly intimate prose and impeccable sense of pace Sullivan ensures this does not happen. We hear each story in chapters but like any great serial, they stop just at the point of wanting more, with the next one pulling the reader further in.
In the same way of diamonds, each story within The Engagements is unique: James burdened with the belief he always falls short, Evelyn who lost one love but discovered another, the impetuosity and fury of Delphine, and the morally righteous Kate whose beliefs are so strongly honed she can only refer to diamonds as “shiny little death pellets.” Through the years their lives intersect in a multitude of events, each perfectly faceted to add to the beauty of the whole. In reality the engagement ring may have begun as a marketing ploy but with Sullivan’s sure hand one ring in particular leads the reader through decades of life lived with and without love, and all the emotion and confusion that accompanies it. The Engagements is as bright and shiny as a new gem but has the depth and quality of a family heirloom.
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