#BookReview House of Beauty by Melba Escobar, translated by Elizabeth Bryer

House of BeautyAbout the Book

House of Beauty is a high-end salon in Bogotá’s exclusive Zona Rosa area, and Karen is one of its best beauticians. One rainy afternoon a teenage girl turns up for a treatment, dressed in her school uniform and smelling of alcohol. The very next day, the girl is found dead.

Karen was the last person to see the girl alive, so the girl’s mother is desperate to find out what Karen knows. Most important of all: who was her daughter going to meet that night?

Format: Paperback (247 pages)     Publisher: 4th Estate
Publication date: 7th March 2019 Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Literature in Translation, Crime

Find House of Beauty on Goodreads

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My Review

Told from multiple points of view, initially I found it hard to distinguish between the different narrators, especially Lucia and her friend Claire, although it helped that Claire’s sections are written in the first person, whilst the others are in the third person. The story also skips forwards and backwards in time meaning, although billed as a crime novel, it’s not long before it becomes less of a ‘whodunnit’ but more a ‘will they get away with it?’

The House of Beauty of the book’s title not only provides a connection between many of the  characters but is also a place of work for beauticians like Karen and a place of indulgence.  ‘House of Beauty takes me in, I’m submerged in the silence and the expensive perfumes, the rosewater, oils and shampoo.’ In the case of Claire, the intimate services performed there are a kind of substitute for the affection that is lacking in her private life. It’s also an almost exclusively female environment, causing one of the male characters to refer to it as ‘that place, off limits to men, where there was room for all kinds of conspiracies and secrets’.

If it’s secrets and conspiracies you’re after, there’s no shortage of them amongst the male characters and there’s certainly little beauty. Take your pick from a rapist, a drug addict, a corrupt politician, a dodgy taxi driver, and any number of unfaithful husbands. The only male characters who display any integrity are Cojack, the private investigator hired by Consuelo, the mother of the dead girl, and Jorge, Consuelo’s ex-husband.  They find themselves pitted against corruption in high places and a bureaucratic legal system that moves at a snail’s pace.

As the book progresses, Karen becomes the dominant character in the story, finding herself in situations that force her to make increasingly more desperate and risky choices and casting her in the role of victim. But is Karen’s story true or is her life a fiction constructed by herself or others?

At one point, Lucia observes, ‘Life is a fabrication, don’t you think? Something we make up from start to finish.’ Whilst ostensibly about the search for the truth about a young girl’s death, House of Beauty exposes the corruption at the heart of Colombian society but also explores the notion of artifice, whether that’s the double lives led by many of the characters, the cosmetically enhanced faces and bodies presented to the world, or the external beauty that hides ugliness within.

In three words: Intriguing, thought-provoking, dark

Try something similar: The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

Melba EscobarAbout the Author

Melba Escobar is a fiction writer and a journalist. She lives in Bogota, Colombia with her children and husband. (Photo credit: Goodreads suthor page)

Connect with Melba
Twitter | Goodreads

About the Translator

Elizabeth Bryer is a writer and translator from Australia. Her translation of Claudia Salazar Jiménez’s Blood of the Dawn was published by Deep Vellum in 2016. In 2017 she was a recipient of a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant.

My Week in Books – 26th September 2021


On What Cathy Read Next last week

Blog posts

Monday – I published an extract from The Garfield Conspiracy by Owen Dwyer as part of the blog tour. 

Tuesday This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic was Books On My Autumn 2021 To-Read List.

WednesdayWWW Wednesday is the opportunity to share what I’ve just read, what I’m currently reading and what I plan to read next… and to have a good nose around what others are reading. I also published my review of historical novel Daughters of War by Dinah Jefferies as part of the blog tour.

Thursday – I shared a progress update on the Bookbloggers 2021 Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Lynne at Fictionophile.  

Friday – I published my review of World War 2 naval adventure Splinter on the Tide by Phillip Parotti.

Saturday – I shared my review of supernatural short story The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings by Dan Jones.

Sunday – I published my review of The Improbable Adventures of Miss Emily Soldene by Helen Batten as part of the blog tour.

As always, thanks to everyone who has liked, commented on or shared my blog posts on social media.

New arrivals

Two Storm WoodTwo Storm Wood by Philip Gray (eARC, Harvill Secker via NetGalley)

The gins are silent. The dead are not.

1919. On the desolate battlefields of northern France, the guns of the Great War are silent. Special battalions now face the dangerous task of gathering up the dead for mass burial. Captain Mackenzie, a survivor of the war, cannot yet bring himself to go home. First he must see that his fallen comrades are recovered and laid to rest. His task is upended when a gruesome discovery is made beneath the ruins of a German strongpoint.

Amy Vanneck’s fiancé is one soldier lost amongst many, but she cannot accept that his body may never be found. Defying convention, hardship and impossible odds, she heads to France, determined to discover what became of the man she loved.

It soon becomes clear that what Mackenzie has uncovered is a war crime of inhuman savagery. As the dark truth leaches out, both he and Amy are drawn into the hunt for a psychopath, one for whom the atrocity at Two Storm Wood is not an end, but a beginning.

LilyLily by Rose Tremain (eARC, Chatto & Windus via NetGalley)

Nobody knows yet that she is a murderer…

Abandoned at the gates of a London park one winter’s night in 1850, baby Lily Mortimer is saved by a young police constable and taken to the London Foundling Hospital. Lily is fostered by an affectionate farming family in rural Suffolk, enjoying a brief childhood idyll before she is returned to the Hospital, where she is punished for her rebellious spirit. Released into the harsh world of Victorian London, Lily becomes a favoured employee at Belle Prettywood’s Wig Emporium, but all the while she is hiding a dreadful secret…

Across the years, policeman Sam Trench keeps watch over the young woman he once saved. When Sam meets Lily again, there is an instant attraction between them and Lily is convinced that Sam holds the key to her happiness – but might he also be the one to uncover her crime and so condemn her to death? 

VioletsViolets by Alex Hyde (eARC, Granta via NetGalley)

A young woman, Violet, lies in a hospital bed in the closing days of the war. Her pregnancy is over and she is no longer able to conceive. With her husband deployed to the Pacific Front and her friends caught up in transitory love affairs, she must find a way to put herself back together.

In a small, watchful town in the Welsh valleys, another Violet contemplates the fate she shares with her unborn child. Unwed and unwanted, an overseas posting offers a temporary way out. Plunged into the heat and disorder of Naples, her body begins to reveal the responsibility it carries even as she is drawn into the burnished circle of a charismatic new friend, Maggie.

Between these two Violets, sung into being like a babe in a nursery rhyme: a son. As their lives begin to intertwine, a spellbinding story of women’s courage emerges, suffused with power, lyricism and beauty, from an exhilarating new voice in British fiction.

The Prince of the SkiesThe Prince of the Skies by Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Žekulin Thwaites (eARC, Pan MacMillan)

Writer. Romantic. Pilot. Hero.

All Antoine de Saint Exupéry wants to do is be a pilot. But flying is a dangerous dream and one that sets him at odds with his aristocratic background and the woman he loves. Despite attempts to keep him grounded, Antoine is determined to venture forwards into the unknown. Together with his friends, Jean and Henri, he will pioneer new mail routes across the globe and help change the future of aviation. In the midst of his adventures, Antoine also begins to weave a children’s story that is destined to touch the lives of millions of readers around the world. A story called The Little Prince . . . Fame and fortune may have finally found Antoine, but as the shadow of war begins to threaten Europe, he’s left to wonder whether his greatest adventure is yet to come…

On What Cathy Read Next this week

Currently reading

Planned posts

  • Book Review: House of Beauty by Melba Escobar
  • Top Ten Tuesday
  • Blog Tour/Book Review: The Shanghai Wife by Emma Harcourt
  • WWW Wednesday
  • Book Review: The Redeemed (West Country Trilogy #3) by Tim Pears 
  • My Five Favourite September Reads
  • #6 Degrees of Separation