Ms Kanta

Voracious reader and DPhil candidate blogs about books and scholarly life.

FLAMING DILDO ROCKETS!

So I have two things to disclose about this novel: first of all, I received an advance reading copy of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, and secondly, I have neither read nor seen Fight Club. Just in case that matters.

Chuck Palahniuk
Beautiful You

There are two ways to respond to Chuck Palahniuk’s latest novel: with confused disgust or with astonished hilarity. I chose the latter way, because, very intentionally, there is barely a paragraph in this novel that can be taken seriously.

Beautiful You cover

Beautiful You, which will be released in November, opens bizarrely and shockingly, with… a young woman being raped, in a room full of men, who sit and stare and don’t do a thing to help her? Described from a distance, only half judging the onlookers, the scene reeks of a grim, misogynist dystopia.
Yes, it is only after this part that the laughing starts.

It turns out that this novel is indeed set in the future, as the forty-seventh, female, president of the US is in office. Not much has changed in the decade or two from today, however, and after the courtroom scene, the novel turns into nothing less than the worst kind of romance novel. The problem with romance novels is that it is hard to recognise a parody of it, because they are all already based on bizarre premises. The previous scene was a flash-forward, and Penny, the young woman, is now only a very average young woman with an average job. She – literally – falls at the feet of a super-rich single billionaire, who promptly asks her out. She gets to wear designer dresses (the names of the designers are always mentioned), her face is on the front page of the newspapers, and she realises this has been her ultimate goal in life. Parody? Of course! But the book comes cunningly close to the real Harlequins.

The parody becomes slightly more specific in the scenes that follow: the chick flick The Ugly Truth (something with an orgasm in a restaurant) and, I am guessing here because I fortunately have not actually read it, Fifty Shades of Grey and its countless steamy spinoffs. C. Linus Maxwell, the billionaire Penny is dating, turns out to be developing the perfect range of sex toys. In comes a wink at dystopian science fiction: Maxwell plans to control humankind through direct control over women’s vaginas.

Maxwell’s idea is awfully bad, and extremely implausible, of course, and it will likely make some readers sigh in exasperation: his range of vibrators works on every single woman, and “ninety-eight point seven percent of the adult women in the industrialised world” buys them. Yet even more laughable is the way in which Penny is supposed to defeat Maxwell in his devious plan: “Only one person can save the women of the world. That person lives in a cave, high on the slopes of Mount Everest. Her name is Baba Gray-Beard, and she’s the greatest living sex mystic.” Oh yes, many more adventure movie-style platitudes follow. Meanwhile, the men, unable to compete with the vibrators, start burning them, which results in massive flaming dildo rockets shooting around the city. No, the portrayal of female sexuality is definitely not the most ridiculous bit.

Whoever takes this novel seriously will be endlessly frustrated by the blatantly crude portrayal of the difference between the sexes, which is reduced to two anatomical diagrams. On the other hand, those who take it with a massive dose of salt will recognise a clever and at times hilarious parody of the awful kitsch fiction that so many people gobble up mindlessly every day, whether this is badly written erotic romance or violent pulp SF. Perhaps the only problem is that at times the book comes too close to these originals.

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This entry was posted on 22/09/2014 by in English, Reviews and tagged , , , , , .

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