Darkly comic and squirm-inducing ... Awad’s prose slithers and shimmies. Ultimately, the disturbing vibes cohere into a fairy tale whose rules and ancient monsters are terribly clear ... Awad brings her story to a powerful conclusion that reaches deep into the mother-daughter relationship, finding a heartbreaking tenderness within.
A gothic comedy ... At times, Rouge could have benefited from an editor ... Its style is as maximalist as Belle’s skin care routine ... Literature is another kind of transformative experience: not just a rendezvous with the self but a mirror reflecting that self’s relation to the world. Rouge points to many discomfiting truths about being a woman in the 21st century, which can sometimes feel an awful lot like gothic horror.
The beauty – pun intended – of Awad’s fascinating literary experiment lies in her lyrical, almost dreamlike use of language and in her employment of archetypal symbols to illustrate a very modern fairytale ... At its heart, Rouge is not so much a fairytale as a vampire story ... The trancelike, rhapsodic language and deepening atmosphere of unreality make for a narrative that oozes with unease. The sense of threat is palpable, and Awad handles her material with enthusiasm, imagination and a refined knowledge of her sources. As the book wears on, however, I could not help feeling that the symbolism, like rouge too generously applied, becomes a little obvious ... For me at least, the balance between the real and the imagined in Rouge is out of kilter, and by the novel’s end I was left feeling I’d poked my head down this particular rabbit hole once too often.
[A] hypnotic tour de force ... Awad smartly grounds her critique in the corrosive envy and misunderstandings that spring up between biracial Mirabelle and her white mother. Mirabelle is a singularly unreliable narrator, but readers who stick with her throughout bouts of confusion and peril will be richly rewarded. This is the stuff of fairy tales—red shoes, ballrooms, mirrors, and thorns but also sincerity, poignancy, and terror.
Delightfully twisted ... Though the narrative stretches on a bit too long, Awad invents increasingly warped skin-care routines as Belle falls under Rouge’s spell: her face is electrified, her memories are manipulated, and she stares at a jellyfish in a tank. The author’s acerbic wit radiates in this excoriating story of beauty’s ugly side.