Every Exquisite Thing by Laura Steven

Happy Spooky Season Readers, 

I’ve been a fan of Laura’s work since I read The Exact Opposite of Okay back in 2017, After reading The Society for Soulless Girls and Every Exquisite Thing Laura can write any retelling and I will be at the front of the line. I am going to try not make this review sound like a giant love letter to Laura’s work.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of my favourite classic books and this “retelling” is done beautifully and Laura has only really borrowed the concept of the portrait from Wilde’s work. This book looks into our obsession with body image and how the perfect look is imposed on young women by society and the lasting damage it can do. The book’s commentary on society and our unattainable beauty standards was flawless and something I think a lot of people can relate to. One of the biggest lessons in this book is the toll our obsession with body image can take. All the sacrifices, all the ugly bits people refuse to see and how beauty is basically an illusion thanks to filters and photoshop.

Laura tackles these issue head on in this retelling and the portrait has a slight little catch dear Reader the quote “Exactly as you are” isn’t just a little compliment to your beauty it’s a warning. Say you’re having a bad mental health day, or you fasted for your portrait and a little hungry you are now stuck that way forever. I am a bugger for getting stuck in my head even when it gets bad, I know I am not trapped in there forever. I don’t even think that would have crossed my mind when given the opportunity for a portrait. 

This book is set at the Dorian Drama School, Dorian only enrols the best theatrical performers. It is clear from the start that our characters are obsessive and are used to making any sacrifice they consider necessary to gain the success they desperately crave.

Our story follows Penny, a young woman who has just entered Dorian and her goal is to become a famous actress like her mother. More importantly Penny wants to prove to her mother that she's worth her love and attention, something that Penny has yearn for her entire life. As Penny navigates classes and rehearsals, Davina becomes her rival and dear Reader it is a beautifully well thought out and developed rivalry. Dear Reader, we have enemies to lovers and I loved every second of it.

Penny’s first “essential” sacrifice is to blackmail one of her peers so she can play the part she wants. When Penny gets the lead in Macbeth, her newly assigned mentor makes her an offer she can’t refuse. The offer is eternal youth, and the price is sitting for a single portrait. Penny can’t refuse the offer as it seems perfect but remember my warning from earlier “Exactly as you are” but this subtle warning falls on deaf ears as all Penny can think about is getting the perfect body image without the constant effort.

I mean who can blame Penny for taking the offer I know when I was younger and at university I would have, I don’t think I would have even questioned it. Penny soon learns that some within the walls of the school the alumni have paid a high price for their success.

This book has a brilliant gloomy atmosphere, dark academia, sapphic enemies to lovers and a loses Dorian Grey retelling. Laura really hit it out the park with this one and I cant wait to see what she does next.

L x

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