There are moments in Beauty that read more like a girlish cosmetics blog than a novel.
Quite a lot of moments. Whole, soporific paragraphs are given over to Bobbi Brown shimmer bricks, Crème de la Mer and inventories of the heroine’s face paint. “Today she wore Meadow cream… and a light, airbrushed foundation… Dark green shadow at the lashline, copper mascara, golds and browns up to the brow. And her lips were plain – nothing but a tangerine gloss… It was more than vanity; it was exciting.”
Exciting for our heroine Dina Kane, beauty guru and self-proclaimed graduate of the “University of Gorgeous”, perhaps. Exciting for her creator Mensch, who since resigning from politics, has moved to New York and set up her own lifestyle website. For the reader - not so much. The cumulative effect of so much cosmetics chat is wearying, like being forced to watch one of those “Here Come the Girls” Boots adverts on a loop for a really long time.
Beauty is Louise Mensch’s latest reboot. Before she was the Conservative MP for Corby and married she was Louise Bagshawe, an author with 15 bestsellers to her name. She has ditched that surname now, which is an odd decision but perhaps chicklit is no place for feminist posturing. Instead the cover has the tagline “Louise Bagshawe, now writing as… Louise Mensch” and features a willowy blonde striding through Manhattan. She looks not unlike Mensch, and very unlike her heroine who, as we are told countless times, is curvy with dark hair. Strange.
Dina Kane is the daughter of a drunk, dead dad and a mother who wishes she had never been born. At the first opportunity she leaves Westchester for New York, ascending from waitress to millionaire make-up mogul, using a blend of mob connections, sex, bribery and bronzer. Along the way, she tangles with largely dreadful men, most significantly, Edward Johnson, a coked-up trustafarian who steals her virginity and humiliates her. In return, she beds his politician father, destroys his family and so begins a spiral of tit-for-tat revenge. There is also her boss (whom she sleeps with) and her financial backer (whom she sleeps with): all of them rich, powerful men with an astonishing eye for the finer details of her wardrobe and make-up.
It has a potboiler momentum, in parts unfolding like an outlandish episode of Gossip Girl. Elsewhere, there is a very long subplot about a moisturiser, which for all of its tautening, brightening properties is still a moisturiser. Beauty is not highbrow, but that is not the problem. Mensch lavishes so much care on Dina’s exterior there is nothing left for her inner life which reads like a Cosmopolitan advertorial. “She tried to recall her first trip to Saks, her first muslin face cloth and Eve Lom cleanser, her first Bobbi Brown bronzer, the tight, bright Beauty Flash Balm by Clarins, Issima’s Midnight Secret…” She is a mannequin, and not a very likeable one at that.
Fine, if you believe a woman’s most important relationship in life is with her lipgloss, or that redemption truly can lie at the bottom of a pot of primer, but really not if you require more depth from your heroines than that.