Author: J. Courtney Sullivan
The Engagements is a story of the timelessness of the diamond engagement ring and how it came to be such big business. I must admit that I found this book to be quite a heavy read and always felt that I was wading through the narrative rather than skipping through the story. I enjoyed the book but was never completely drawn in the way I would have liked. I must admit that reading the acknowledgements at the end of the book increased my enjoyment and I think had I known at the beginning what I discovered at the end I would have appreciated so much more about the story as I read it.
The story spans generations and follows five different people in different time periods, we get to know each of them in alternating chapters until the very end, where we discover how their stories tie together. In between each act there are tidbits of information about diamonds, their industry and their advertising.
I went into this book with the impression that it was a complete work of fiction and have since discovered that this was not the case. The diamond distributor and the advertising company exist and the information related about them has been meticulously researched. Frances Gerety really was the mind behind the slogan which has survived the test of time and is still used today. She was the woman responsible for all of the copywriting in diamond advertising for decades and The Engagements gives us a look into her life that many of us may not otherwise have had. Scattered throughout the book there are also small snippets from the annual reports sent to the De Beers and studies commissioned by them. We are treated to a look at how the advertising for such a high priced commodity has evolved throughout the years.
It is very interesting to note that the copywriter responsible for ensuring the diamond engagement ring has become such an enduring tradition, and now in so many places across the world, was a woman who never married and never really wanted to. She helped entrench a tradition that she never brought into for herself.
All of the characters we get to know in The Engagements come from completely different walks of life and their stories seem completely unrelated. Each of the characters draws us into their life and though their stories are separated into differing time frames they tend to span a lot longer as we hear their back stories through their memories.
We meet Evelyn in 1972 as a grandmother faced with losing her beloved daughter-in-law and grandchildren because her son has run off and left them, and now returns wanting a divorce. She is firmly of the belief that divorce is completely wrong and hers is a time where no-fault divorce was not yet common. We discover that she is on her second marriage and how the first one ended.
In 1987 James is a young ambulance driver struggling to make ends meet and make his young family proud. He has made some bad choices but for the most part his heart is in the right place. He wants to provide for his family and make sure his children have more than he did growing up but that isn’t always as easy as you would like. He works long shifts in the ambulance and always feels he isn’t good enough for his wife’s family. The area they live in isn’t fantastic and that has never been hammered home as hard as when Sheila, his wife, is mugged after buying groceries.
2003 takes us to France where we meet Delphine, a lady approaching middle age and married to a man 15 years her senior. Henri is also her business partner and that is how they met. Their marriage has never been one of all consuming passion, more for companionship and camaraderie so when passion comes knocking Delphine can’t help but open the door… and then walk out it with the much younger other man to uproot her life and move to New York, where things don’t quite go to plan and she’s surprised.
In 2012 Kate is a conscientious objector to marriage, among many other things, and it takes a while to work out why she’s been included. Her ideologies are very strong and she was lucky to find a man who agrees with a lot of them, though not all, and is happy to have a long term committed relationship with no thoughts of ever marrying. They moved out of the city to give their daughter a cleaner upbringing. She is very preachy in her approach and I think that is emphasised by the weekend with her mother and sister in the house, mainly because they are very much the opposite. Kate is very much against marriage, and possibly even more so against diamonds. Her aversion to diamonds is aimed at the industry and the blood that it is founded on. Even being anti-marriage, and anti-diamond, she is drawn into this story because her cousin is finally able to marry his boyfriend and they have always been very close so in spite of her beliefs she supports him in his right to marry.
The four character based plotlines running alongside what I afterwards discovered was a factual history of Frances Gerety lend weight to each other, and to then discover how the four character based plots tied together was quite intriguing. I guessed what tied them together relatively early but was stumped until the very end as to the how.
Not all of the characters were particularly likeable but they were compelling, slowly uncovering their motivations and back stories. Also finding out how their stories ended, which was sometimes quite a surprise. This is not your nice light poolside summer read, it takes some focus to get your head into but once you get there I think it was worth it.
I enjoyed the stories but was never totally engrossed, the book is well written but it didn’t grab me. On Goodreads I rated it 4 stars, which really should have been more of a 3.5 (which you can’t do). It would have been 3 stars had I not discovered that the theme running through the story of the engagement ring and how it came to be an institution was all based on historical fact. I think this would be a great read for those who like historical fiction and those interested in the diamond trade.