Rouge by Mona Awad: book review

Rouge by Mona Awad

Overview: Belle is obsessed with skincare, a trait inherited from childhood through beauty obsessed mother. Belle is living her own life back in Montreal when she gets a call that her mother has passed away in California. When Belle goes to settle her mother's estate, she starts putting together some of the weird signs she saw in her mother right before her death and ends up getting sucked into a terrifying, soul-sucking spa world that puts her own life at risk. Drawing on a ton of fairytale elements and blurring the lines between reality and the mystical, Mona Awad delivers another truly disorienting novel. Overall: 3

Characters: 3 I had a really hard time finding the depth in these characters that I'd hoped for. There's just not enough grounding to truly tap into anyone in this cast. Belle spends so much time brainwashed that we never get to find out who she is as a person or see her grow. We get flashes of her childhood and see that there's a lot of pain and conflict with her mother, but there are so many fantastical elements that obscure the emotional core of Belle's experiences. Both Belle's mother and grandmother are so cold and removed that it's hard to form any attachment to them. There are some interesting characters that Belle encounters in California like her mother's handyman/possible lover that wants to help Belle, but so much of the novel takes place in the weird spa on the hill that we hardly spend time with these more interesting, grounded figures that also help shed small insight into who Belle is.

Plot: 3 This book is very plot heavy, but it's so rambling that none of the events that happen carry any weight or intrigue in the moment. The whole book is about digging into this spa/cult/soul stealing mansion on the hill connected to themes of beauty, but the book is written in such a disorienting manner that it's hard to feel momentum or a sense of urgency. The writing is easy to read quickly, which is the only thing that kept me moving through the book. 

Awad's signature style is sort of spacey and confusing when it comes to the rules of the world. What's hallucination? What's magic? What's going on? Everything is just a little upside down in her worlds, and you can't question it too intensely. The issue here is that there's absolutely no grounding at all. There's no framework to build on or set of intentions to follow along and give gravity to Belle's experiences. Bunny works off a clear character, in a clear setting, with a clear set of rules around the magical, horror elements. While you question whether it's real magic or the main character's insanity, the book definitely has scaffolding that supports these stranger elements and keeps the book moving. Rouge is as truly amorphous as the jellyfish it's obsessed with. 

Writing: 3 I honestly wasn't sure I was going to review this book because I was just so confused about what was going on the entire time. There are so many elements that are thrown around with very little resolution or clear sense of direction. There's everything that happens within Rouge, there's two different dress shops, there's lots of fairytale motifs that are chaotically thrown in without an understanding of what they build to. The rose motif and Belle's name pulls from Beauty and the Beast. There's some important high heels that are reminiscent of Cinderella. Rouge ends up having a vibe very similar to Ursula in the Little Mermaid. Having finished the book, I'm not sure how it's all meant to come together or the bigger sense it's meant to bring, but I do like the fairytale whimsy. 

While I don't feel like a lot of the book gelled for me, I did like the ending. For a book that never felt like it was building to something, the ending provided a real sense of satisfaction and had a grounded sense to it that I wish was present in more of the book. It felt satisfying and fitting, and it actually made me like the book better, which I wasn't expecting. 

More from the Author:

Bunny review

More on Reading, Writing, and Me:

The Getaway List review

The Last He Told Me review

2023 Reading Stats

Ripe review


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