Mona Awad’s thrillingly weird campus novel Bunny was a runaway hit in 2019 and those who enjoyed its smart, skewering prose will welcome Rouge, a gloriously unsettling Gothic fairy tale about mothers and daughters and the ugliness that lies within ‘beauty’. Set in modern-day California, Rouge lampoons the beauty industry as a devouring cult that distorts relationships and reality. The narrator, Belle, has recently lost her estranged mother, the glamorous Noelle, in a mysterious accident. Belle, an ugly duckling obsessed with skincare, allows a pair of Noelle’s red shoes to lure her to La Maison de Méduse, a so-called spa in which rosy jellyfish bob in vast tanks under the watchful eye of a pair of beautiful twins. The place is eerily reminiscent of the House of Usher, but its consuming grip on its devotees renders them helplessly unable to perceive its true face – or their own.
In the opening chapters, the keenly perceptive Belle is an entertaining and sympathetic narrator, which only heightens the unsettling effect of her descent later on into aphasia, forgetfulness and outright delusion. Awad’s pacing is impeccable and her imagery, centred around motifs of white and red, lends the novel