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Rouge by Mona Awad review – like drowning in poison

A woman is recruited into a demonic beauty cult in this intricate, sometimes funny novel, but the protagonist’s contemptuous voice becomes tiresome

In Canadian author Mona Awad’s nightmarish new novel, a cult of beauty-obsessed Californian women pursue the ultimate prize, which they call the Glow. The protagonist, Belle, goes to San Diego to pack up her deceased mother’s things. Mother was gorgeous and cruel in the Mommie Dearest mould. She had been involved with La Maison de Méduse, a mysterious spa – and now they want to recruit Belle, too. But who are they really, and what are the unholy roots of US beauty standards?

The focus on physical hyper-self-consciousness and woman’s inhumanity to woman continues the theme of Awad’s previous novels – Bunny, about an insufferable American college sorority who all address one another by the book’s title, and 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, a bildungsroman about a self-loathing young woman.

Rouge by Mona Awad is published by Simon & Schuster (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply

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