Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

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Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A sexually charged look at a woman trapped alongside obsession – both of one scientist to develop the ultimate product for the female half of humanity, and of that half for their latest fix.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: November 2015
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780099587675

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Meet Penny Harrigan. And let's hope your introduction to her is more gentle than that we have on the first page of this book, where she is being raped in front of a full court house, who – male to the bone – sit back and say nothing, if not whip out their camera phone. Once people take her out on a gurney and recognise her, we can start from the beginning, where she is a lowly underling at a law firm, having failed too many exams to progress satisfactorily. The company is where the world's richest man is in legal negotiations having left the world's best and most beautiful actress, and lo and behold he just happens to pick Penny to replace her with, even if she doesn't think of herself as the most beautiful girl around. But what exactly is it she is wanted for, and can her apolitical style of feminism and aspirations be met?

For me this counts as a return to some kind of form for Mr Palahniuk after a couple of (for him) average novels, but that is not to say that this just harks back to old ideas. Penny, we soon learn, has been plucked Cinderella-like from obscurity to be the prime test market for a young entrepreneur's extensive range of sex toys. But why is she opening herself up for ecstasy time over time when she – like us – might want more? Is this all there is to the situation – this is a woman who, after all, thinks she has been tailed by her own guardian angels since a young age? And what of that opening, seemingly unaccountable, rape?

For me the writing stuck too much to the sex side but only on one or two short occasions, and nowhere did our author open himself to winning that Bad Sex Award. That said it has to be said the book is not for the prudish or sexually squeamish. There is a lot to be said for the writing elsewhere, the clinically visual and open style bringing us into the unusual circumstances and events of Penny's story. Plus of course there is the business man's side of things, and he's clearly supposed to be the Steve Jobs of dildos, the scientifically-minded genius who brings the f*** to F*c*book. I even wondered for a while if the book wasn't a whole parody of the Apple/Microsoft battleground – certainly scenes of women outside stores seeking their newest sex toy are definitely there to parallel those real-world ones of idiots queueing for the midnight iPhone 7 launch.

It loses its way a little when it goes to seek a sex sensei in the Himalayas, and the whole ethos of commanding your pleasure is a bit naïve – but I don't think I hold any credence with the claims this is sexist and misogynistic. On the whole, instead, this is a tight (oo-er), gripping (phwoar) and stimulating (now then, now then) read.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

A bizarre and very fresh look at a different ex-Bad Boy of American letters can be had with Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs by Lina Wolff and Frank Perry (translator).

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Buy Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk at


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