BOOKS: Waxes unlyrical

SLEEPING BEAUTIES by Mavis Cheek, Faber pounds 14.99
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The Independent Culture
ANYONE who has braved the beautician's table for the occasional leg-wax will know there's a biting satire waiting to be written about the twilight world of the pink nylon overall and the seaweed wrap. Sadly, this is not it. So much so, that it's hard to imagine Cheek has ever really delved into that world herself: her observations seem gross and predictable, her effect oddly dated.

Tabitha loves her Beauty "Parlour" (surely a term that went out with chiffon headscarves?) but has her eye on early retirement to Andalusia. Her protegee, the beautiful but vulgar Chloe, is her obvious successor, but Chloe has an irksome propensity to thrust abrasively graphic sex advice at her clients about "Moby Dick" size pricks and "getting to grips with" erections. That's when she's not spouting Homer and Giradoux as she depilates and massages (yes, it seemed unlikely to me, too).

Intent on proving herself, Chloe persuades three new clients in for "make-overs". Margery, Caroline and Gemma are all fighting for their men and acknowledge, albeit timidly, that a clean brow-line and hair-free legs would help. But Chloe, certain that sexual pulling power is the answer to everything, slaps on the fuck-me make-up and tells them to go for it.

The result? Frumpy, middle-aged Margery waits for her married lover in a field with no knickers on and is stood up: drunk, disappointed, make- up melting, a picture of humiliation. And it gets worse. The novel begins to reek of its rankly unfunny jokes, and the nadir is reached when poor, pitiable, divorced and (ha, ha) menstruating Mrs Pargeter comes to the salon for a first-time bikini wax, only to have her tampon yanked from her vagina along with the pubic hairs - "an experience very near to rape in reverse".

It's supposed to be a laugh a minute, but it's all rather sixth-formish and sad. Perhaps Mavis Cheek has picked far too easy a target. We already know that our lives won't fall into place just because we tweeze our eyebrows: we already know that the beauty industry is lamentable and laughable. So, bereft of any genuine purpose, she merely dishes up a shoddy little Benny Hill romp - painfully misogynist when it's from a female pen.