From the critically acclaimed author of Bunny comes a horror-tinted, gothic fairy tale about a lonely dress shop clerk whose mother’s unexpected death sends her down a treacherous path in pursuit of youth and beauty. Can she escape her mother’s fate—and find a connection that is more than skin deep?
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.
“You’re going to go on quite a journey together,” she says.
“Oh yes. A marvelous journey. Un voyage merveilleux. I can feel it.”
“What sort of journey?” I ask.
She looks at me likewhat a question. “The only journey that matters in the end, Daughter of Noelle.”
“Retinol?” I whisper.
“The soul. A journey of the soul, of course.”
And the white jellyfish in my palm quivers.
Interrupting my short review roundups because Mona Awad is a genius and Rouge deserves all the flowers. It’s absolutely magnifique.
Rouge was my first foray into Awad’s writing and it most certainly won’t be the last.
It’s a dark, head-spinning fairy tale about a young woman who, following the death of her mother, spirals down a dangerous path filled with obsession over beauty and youth.
Mira starts the story in Montreal, estranged from her mother and working in a local dress shop. In her spare time, she obsessively watches influencer skincare videos and painstakingly attempts to recreate their regimes in search of her own skin perfection. Travelling back to her mother’s home in La Jolla, Mira is embraced by an exclusive spa called La Maison de Méduse which is harbouring a horrific secret. There, Mira learns more about her mother’s obsession with appearance and the dark path that led to her demise.
Rouge is a darkly fun and deeply emotional fever dream that has stayed with me long after finishing the last page. At the novel’s forefront is loss and grief, as well as the complex dynamics of mother-daughter relationships. However, Awad also uses the novel as a powerful critique of the beauty industry, particularly how our desire to conform to beauty ideals can lead to a loss of self. Parrallels can be drawn between La Maison de Méduse and the multitudes of companies that prey upon the insecurities of women. Awad explores feelings of self-loathing, particularly from the perspective of someone with dual heritage as well as how women’s self-worth is too often tied to the pursuit of unrealisitic beauty standards and the impact that this has on one’s mental health – I’m looking at you Instagram influencers!
All of this is written in a surreal, heady dream where we’re not quite sure what is real and who to trust. Filling the pages of Rouge are lush red, white and black imagery with a strong undercurrent of tension. It’s an instantly captivating, wildly entertaining and thought-provoking read with the perfect infusion of horror, dark comedy and important social commentary. The ending also had me sobbing tears! It’s so surreal and bizarre and if it had been any other author, it probably wouldn’t have worked but because it was Awad, it was so beautiful. I’m DYING to see this made into a movie because Awad’s imagery is so vivid throughout the novel that it would be remarkable, especially the jellyfish!
I was not expecting Rouge to move me the way it did. It’s still haunts me to this day and has very quickly become one of my all time favourite reads. Mona Awad, I bow down to you.