Updated on May 19, 2015
42. ‘Beautiful You’ by Chuck Palahniuk
I really didn’t know what to make of this book when I first started reading it. The opening is shocking, to say the least: it is told from the perspective of a woman as she is raped, publicly, in a courtroom and nobody stands up to help her.
After that description, you may not believe me if I tell you this is an absolutely hilarious book. But I promise you, it is.
Penny is a plain, unimportant woman who believes that she has spent her entire life being followed (and sometimes rescued) by silent, pinstripe-suited men with sunglasses. When she meets billionaire C. Linus Maxwell, her life is turned upside down by the astonishing amount of attention he gives her. What’s more, Maxwell (aka ‘Climaxwell’) is about to release a new range of powerful sex toys for women, and he wants to test all his products on Penny.
Over the next few weeks, he repeatedly brings Penny to excruciating heights of ecstasy using his toys, and her animal pleasure is contrasted by his constantly cold, clinical demeanour. She’s his experiment. His sexy, sexy experiment. But what impact will his toys have on the world? And can Penny do anything to stop him?
It’s no secret that I hate the Fifty Shades trilogy, and this novel subverts the world of those books beautifully. There are plenty of parallels: a plain, non-orgasmic woman is rescued from her life of sexual drudgery by an orphaned billionaire who turns out to have sinister intentions, after she literally falls into his office. But Palahniuk plays with these characters wonderfully, showing the ludicrous villainy of the Christian Grey character, and making Penny much more badass than Ana Steele could ever be.
Wealthy brand names are dropped with the same frequency as in the Fifty Shades books, but here they aren’t attempting to be aspirational: they bring out the pettiness of the characters who are concerned with them, and make them seem utterly laughable. Palahniuk has created a perfectly pitched, funny antidote to the shallow erotic trash championed by people like EL James.
Beautiful You does all this without ever losing its ability to surprise. The story does not descend into cliché (as so often happens) but packs in twists that you will never, never see coming. I guarantee no reader could predict the character of Baba Grey-Beard (or what precious memento she keeps of her mother’s, and where), and one character’s final comeuppance is so deliciously perverted that I cackled a little.
A billion husbands are about to be replaced? Maybe not, but I think a thousand lame erotic novels are about to become redundant.
“A tagline along the bottom of each ad read, ‘Better Than Love’.”
If you liked my review, why not read the book (it was published yesterday!) and let me know what you think.
Thank you to the lovely folks at Jonathan Cape for my free review copy.