Amanda Filipacchi’s fourth novel is a matchless satire that manages to make a point or two along with the fun. It follows a memorable cast of characters, led by Barb, a costume designer and world-class beauty with the kindest of hearts. Convinced of the sheer uselessness and even destructiveness of beauty after a spurned lover kills himself over her, Barb hides her looks under a fat suit.
By contrast, Barb’s best friend, Lily, is ugly but plays the piano like a dream, to the point where she can inspire listeners to see her as incredibly beautiful—as long as her music goes on. And there’s Penelope, whose pottery store is filled with merchandise designed to crack when lifted by a customer. (This brings in a steady income, thanks to the store’s “you break it, you buy it” policy.) The three are part of an artsy community, the Knights of Creation, where they help each other achieve their various creative goals.
The story is both daunting and haunting, as Lily and Barb face the deaths of friends (which one of their fellow Knights may be involved in) and the threats of needy fellow members.
Obviously, total realism is not Filipacchi’s specialty, but no reader would want it otherwise. A novel of deliberate contrariness, The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty takes on some thorny issues and speaks to both the mind and heart at the same time. Not to mention the funny bone.