“No-one knew where the rainbows came from, nor why they were so excited by this simple world, yet they appeared on every talk show about the amazing opportunity they were offering. Every host wore the same expression—wide eyed, incredulous and completely trusting.”
Alien rainbows have visited earth and our offering people the chance to become living pieces of art. Tilli, an aspiring model and actress, jumps at the opportunity but finds herself turned away. With persistence, she is eventually picked by the rainbows to be part of their exhibits. However, she soon discover the intentions of the rainbows are far more sinister.
The core story of Madeleine Swann’s novella is a familiar one. An aspiring actress seeking fame and fortune finds herself in over her head. However, rather than falling to prey to a predatory movie industry, she finds herself forced into degrading acts to keep herself popular and keep the alien rainbows from devouring her.
The satirizing of celebrity culture, especially the kind that reality shows have spawned, is almost too obvious here. Tilli, in order to gain attention when she’s turned into a piece of living art, begins to commit degrading and over-the-top antics. This act of desperation to keep from being killed by the rainbows earns her the attention she needed at the cost of her dignity. Even when she moves up and gains the favor of the rainbows and the other pieces of living art, she begins to hate the people who come to see her. They refuse to see the real Tilli in favor of this front she’s forced to put up.
I suspect Swann doesn’t have a high opinion of the British art scene. The rainbows often turn people into shocking and disgusting works of art. For example, one living piece of art is described as being a woman whose face is “constructed from parts of famous paedophiles.” It brings to mind the controversial painting Myra by English painter Marcus Harvey. This painting was a portrait of notorious child murder Myra Hindley created from the hands prints of children. This painting was among several other pieces that earned contemporary British art the reputation of being reliant on shock value and tastelessness. Rainbows Suck satirizes both the “low culture” of reality television and the “high culture” of contemporary art. It depicts both as reliant on appealing to the lowest common denominator for attention rather than being meaningful on any level.
The biggest problem with this novella is the pacing. This story moves along in an incredibly clunky manner. It moves forward far too fast for a book as reliant on imagery as this one is. It’s a short book at less than 90 pages long and would have benefited from being longer. I get the impression that Swann was confined by the length and felt unable to give the work the room to breathe it needed.