I really like Chuck Palahniuk, he of Fight Club fame (and one of the few authors who has said that he likes the film better than the book), and his latest novel, Beautiful You, just reinforced my admiration of him. Basically, in my opinion he is a far more lovable, less pretentious version of Bret Easton Ellis, despite the fact that he writes novels about soap made from human fat, and now, orgasms causing the downfall of women around the world.
Penny Harrigan is a low-level associate at a New York law firm, and although she has high aspirations, she isn’t even close to achieving them. There, she meets C. Linus Maxwell, a software billionaire who dates the most famous women around the world…and is renowned for being the world’s greatest lover. Maxwell whisks Penny off to France on what appears to be a whirlwind romance – but Maxwell has other intentions. Through the use of his trusty notepad and a series of inventions, Maxwell brings Penny to climax, again and again and again, as a form of research for his latest endeavour, a line of sex toys for women titled Beautiful You. And then, just as with all his other lovers, Maxwell dumps Penny on the 100th day of their relationship, just as he releases Beautiful You – products so successful that women around the world are queuing for them. Yet what seems like a liberating product for women quickly becomes more sinister, as Penny learns that Maxwell hopes to control the female population through their orgasms.
I will admit that when I read the plot of Beautiful You, I was a bit like ‘excuse me, what?’. What was Palahniuk playing at exactly? Was his novel about feminism, or a response to the increase of feminism in the media in 2014? Would it contain sex scenes so degrading that I would feel physically unclean (a la Ellis’s American Psycho)? Yet I still decided to pick it up simply because it was written by Chuck Palahniuk, and if there is an author that can turn a savoury tale with an unlovable protagonist into a best-seller, it was him.
Well. First, let me tell you that I read Beautiful You in one day, before and after work, late into the night. How fitting that I was addicted to a book about addiction. The concept of the novel was just so enthralling – where was Palahniuk going with this? What does the opening scene of the novel mean in the grander scale of the plot? Why is Maxwell so intent on taking control of females around the world? And, perhaps the greatest question of all, could a woman be reduced to her orgasm?
Now, don’t get me wrong, there were definitely weird bits of the novel, and while I’m usually OK with weird, at times even I was a bit like, ‘eww’. But in saying that, for such a weird topic for a novel, Palahniuk makes it a lot lesser weirder than it could have been, and instead it became an odd mix of romance, lust and crime.
As I stated at the beginning of this post, there are aspects of Palahniuk’s writing that are similar to Ellis, in particular references to fashion and outward appearances. To be honest, this was perhaps the bit that I enjoyed the least about Beautiful You, although I understood that their purpose was to show how money can change you, and how Penny was still, somehow, dependent on Maxwell. And while both authors have a penchant for rather unlikeable main characters, Palahniuk somehow convinces the reader to sympathise with them. And above all else, Palahniuk is a far more fluid writer – although he deals with somewhat off-colour topics, with the black humour to match, he writes in a manner that is so simple that almost anyone could read his novels.
It’s a weird topic, but nevertheless I would recommend reading Beautiful You. Chuck Palahniuk is one of the strongest, if kookiest, writers of the 21st century, and though it may not create the same cult follow as Fight Club, it will still have you hooked.
Have you read Beautiful You? Are you a fan of Chuck Palahniuk or Fight Club? Let me know!