***** - Rouge
For as long as she can remember, Belle has been insidiously obsessed with her skin and skincare videos. When her estranged mother Noelle mysteriously dies, Belle finds herself back in Southern California, dealing with her mother’s considerable debts and grappling with lingering questions about her death. The stakes escalate when a strange woman in red appears at the funeral, offering a tantalizing clue about her mother’s demise, followed by a cryptic video about a transformative spa experience.
With the help of a pair of red shoes, Belle is lured into the barbed embrace of La Maison de Méduse, the same lavish, culty spa to which her mother was devoted. There, Belle discovers the frightening secret behind her (and her mother’s) obsession with the mirror—and the great shimmering depths (and demons) that lurk on the other side of the glass.
Snow White meets Eyes Wide Shut in this surreal descent into the dark side of beauty, envy, grief, and the complicated love between mothers and daughters. With black humor and seductive horror, ROUGE explores the cult-like nature of the beauty industry—as well as the danger of internalizing its pitiless gaze. Brimming with California sunshine and blood-red rose petals, ROUGE holds up a warped mirror to our relationship with mortality, our collective fixation with the surface, and the wondrous, deep longing that might lie beneath.
Rouge is one of those books that is a full experience to read and is genuinely quite hard to describe. It reads almost as a fever dream and the narration style gets more and more unhinged the further you read. I felt gripped from the first page and was compelled to keep reading, devouring it in just a few sittings.
Belle has always felt like she is in her mother’s shadow when it comes to her beauty. When her mum passes away, a pair of red shoes leads her to a luxury, secret spa that who seem very keen on passing out free beauty treatments.
Belle is a fascinating character as even before the plot develops - she is shallow and very concerned with her skin, taking part in elaborate beauty routines with various creams and serums and watching endless Youtube videos for guidance. The book is a great commentary on the beauty and wellness industry and uses inspiration from Snow White and Fairytales to tell the story. It passes into the sci-fi and horror territories at times as well as touching on mother/daughter relationships, jealousy and grief.
I did feel that the ending was a little unsatisfying – I was expecting perhaps a final twist and some ends are not completely tied up but that felt very in-keeping with its style - it’s a book that you will think about long after you turn the final page. I highly recommend it – it’s the perfect Halloween read and a Kindig Gem for 2023. Thank you to NetGalley & Simon & Schuster UK – Scribner UK for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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