The Guardian

Snow White and the satanic jellyfish

Rouge Mona Awad Simon & Schuster, £16.99, pp384

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,

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 hyper-selfconsciousness 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 selfloathing young woman.

Awad’s work has a love or loathe it flavour. Her fans will find all the familiar ingredients in Rouge, which throws a lot into the mix, where it congeals like a rancid homemade face mask. Tragic old Hollywood legends, and Beauty and

Cronenberg and Lynch, Man Ray’s mask-like women, Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes, Sunset Boulevard, cursed mirrors and haunted dolls – it’s all there. There’s also a soft porn element – think of the masked balls in Fifty Shades or Eyes Wide Shut – as veiled beauties seduce Belle into their demonic facial black mass, where satanic red jellyfish enable deluded old ladies to live for ever like gorgeous cursed vampires … I am not joking, and, indeed, Rouge is not without humour, as a running gag about Tom Cruise demonstrates.

But overall, it’s like being drowned in thick poison – or Poison, by Dior –