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Elegance Paperback – April 27, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
A frumpy, depressed woman is reborn as an assertive diva in Tessaro's debut novel, thanks to a 40-year-old style manual she discovers in a second-hand bookstore. Louise Canova is an American woman from Pittsburgh who lives in London with her chilly actor husband. Louise once dabbled in acting herself, but now works at a theater box office. She's overweight, badly dressed, has purely platonic relations with her husband and is surrounded by more-glamorous-than-thou types-her friend Nicki, a former model; her mother-in-law, a former model and a socialite-who condescend to her. Everything changes, however, when Louise discovers Elegance, a fashion guide from 1964 written by Genevieve Dariaux, a legendary (and fictional) Coco Chanel-like arbiter of taste. Quoting liberally from the guidebook, Tessaro writes a lighthearted contemporary version of Pygmalion. In this case, Louise is her own Professor Higgins, and using Dariaux's amusingly anachronistic (is anyone wearing veils these days?) yet timeless advice ("being beautiful is no guarantee of happiness in this world"), she changes her appearance, her self-image and her entire life. The author introduces each chapter with a relevant excerpt from the manual. This structure sometimes seems a bit forced, especially when Louise's husband turns out to be gay (there is no worthwhile advice from Madam Dariaux on that situation), but on the whole the book is a lively, irresistible read.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
This finely wrought debut novel tells a Cinderella story of sorts about an unhappy thirtysomething woman who manages to turn her disastrous life around. Louise Canova hails from Pittsburgh but is currently living in London with her actor husband. Louise has severe self-esteem problems, a budding eating disorder, a complete lack of interest in any activity, and a growing sense that something isn't right with her marriage. One day, while browsing in a used bookstore, she comes across a style manual entitled Elegance, penned by a doyenne of Parisian style and grace. Captivated by the advice in the book, Louise begins to dress better (no more Birkenstocks and shapeless dresses), work out regularly, and sleep less, and she seeks more attention and respect from her husband. Tessaro is a skillful writer, and in her capable hands this subject receives the respect it deserves, with dark undertones from Louise's past rearing up unexpectedly throughout the story. Readers will enjoy following this harrowing journey of self-discovery, renewal, and reinvention to its uplifting conclusion. Kathleen Hughes
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
To my surprise much of the book is based on the non-fiction book by Dariaux.
The main character in the book finds a dusty copy of "Elegance" in the used book store. Using the books advice she slowly transforms herself from an unhappy housewife with a dull job and a packed closet but nothing to wear into a woman of style and substance.
Each chapter begins with quotes from the Dariaux book (most of which are in the original book, a few have been made up by the author or changed.) And as each chapter goes along our heroine learns something that relates to the quote about style or elegance. For example, weight, men, restaurants, underwear are among the topics covered. I especially enjoyed the chapter on lingerie. As I thought of my own worn DKNY nighties, our heroine Louise is learning that "everything you own should do its job with some semblance of grace and dignity." and that we tend to dress and look better for complete strangers than our loved ones. Hmmm time for a little shopping for me!
Our heroine also learns that a sparse closet with very fine clothes that you wear and wear and always look fresh in is far better than a wardrobe jam packed with tawdry items that don't last,or look good.
The book is a learning tool for the character, Louise and for the reader.
And of course the book is not only a tool that teaches elegance but it plots the ups and downs of Louise's life.
I love the book. Though I have read many pure fashion books, this fiction book rivals them. It had me pulling out my Dariaux book and rereading for what I missed.
A super read!
The storyline is a very basic one: Louise Canova, a married 32 year old, suddenly wakes up to the fact that she's deeply unhappy, unsatisfied with the turn that her life has taken, and that she has become very frumpish. She has an elegant ex-model mother-in-law she really dislikes (even as she craves her approval and attention), and her husband (who remains nameless throughout the novel) seems more interested in housekeeping than in her. And then Louise, a used bookstore junkie (at least for the first few chapters of "Elegance") finds a copy of a book (circa 1950s/1960s?) that promises to teach plain Janes how to become the very epitome of elegance. Louise begins to take the lessons that the book offers very much to heart, hoping to become the elegant swan she craves to be, little expecting the actual impact the book will actually have on her life. For suddenly, Louise is confronted with some uncomfortable truths about her past, present and the possible future that is in store for her if she doesn't change things soon...
If you're looking for a laugh-a-minute, witty romp of a novel a-la "Bridget Jones," think twice before picking up "Elegance." "Elegance" is a little darker, sometimes rather sad and somber novel. There are, it is true, moments of great humour and warmth, and you cannot help but root for Louise to become the elegant swan, get the job, the man and happiness that is her due. But there were also the moments when I wanted to shake our heroine really hard for all her sulking and pouting when things didn't play out as she would have wanted them to.
So was "Elegance" a worthwhile read? For me, certain passages/descriptions (like where the authour describes used bookstores and the fascination that some of us have for them and when she describes that feeling of delicious exhilaration when you're not so much with the man as in love with his fascination/attraction with/to you) that really made this book for me. Storywise, you can more or less guess in which direction the novel (and Louise) is going after the first few chapters. But the prose style, the painful lessons that Louise learns, and watching her become the 'swan' she was meant to be, all made the book a somewhat worthwhile read. Though I'd advise either borrowing a copy of "Elegance" from the library, hinting like mad that a friend lend (or give you) her copy, or else waiting a year for the book to come out in tradepaper, as it is a bit difficult to justify spending the hardcover price for this book.
The main character, a transplanted Pittsburgher, is married but frumpy, and then she transforms herself and her life after running across a vintage style manual called "Elegance." The chapter heads, which go from A to Z, detail everything from "accessories" to "jewelry."
It's a cute premise, and some of Tessaro's writing is pithy.
However, this book suffers from the same plot, same lack of surprises and same plodding pace as other across the pond women's books like "Bad Heir Day," "Pride, Prejudice and Jasmine Field," and countless others.
It raises the same question: why can't any one of these authors think of another plot? In a nutshell, this book, and all its clones, has a slightly downtrodden, perhaps overweight or badly dressed heroine.
She starts to dress better/loses weight/gains self-confidence.
She dumps a horrible crush/boyfriend/husband.
She somehow gets out of her dead-end job/parent's house/work rut and achieves fabulous success working for a glossy women's magazine/the Royal Opera House/a hip PR firm.
She always gets some new, handsome boyfriend at the end, and she always ends up fabulously happy.
I'm all for fluff, but I'm sick of reading the same story over and over again. I'm done with Brit Chick Lit
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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