Author: Kathleen Tessaro
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication date: January 1st, 2003
Paperback: 336 pages
Louise Canova needs help. She’s stuck in a sexless marriage with a husband who is more interested in arranging the living room furniture than in having steaming sex. (And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the true reason behind his behavior.) To top it all off, Louise suffers from deeply rooted insecurities that stem from her childhood.
Amidst her turmoil, Louise visits a secondhand bookstore and comes across a forty-year-old encyclopedia of style titled Elegance, by formidable French fashion expert Madame Dariaux. It is an A-to-Z manual that promises to be able to transform any woman into a creature of style and grace. Feeling empty and with little satisfaction in her current life, Louise takes the book’s advice a little too much to heart. One could even say she becomes a little bit unhealthily obsessed with it.
But one good thing comes to pass thanks to said secondhand volume. The book does indeed contain a healthy dose of wisdom, such as accepting yourself for who you are, forming realistic expectations of your own physical beauty, and letting your inner character transform your outer grace and poise.
As time passes and her inner wounds heal, Louise comes to terms with her past mistakes and insecurities, finally allowing a stunning new creature to resurface from the ashes of yesterday.
The story behind this novel (which could rightfully be considered “chic lit”), is an interesting one.
The author, Kathleen Tassaro, did actually find a book in a second-hand store called Elegance: A Complete Guide for Every Woman Who wants to Be Well and Properly Dressed on All Occasions , written by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux in 1964. Tassaro then, with permission from Dariaux, wrote a novel based on the self-help book. In each chapter, the author leads with a bit of advice from Dariaux, followed by a situation in the protagonist’s life where she either heeds or disregards said advice.
In this respect, it’s surprisingly clever.
Now to all those holding their breath, Louise does find true love (that’s about as far as I’m going to venture into the “spoiler realm”). Although I would like to commend the author, because she managed to intertwine a happy love ending in the least expected way possible.
I would also like to add that I’m so happy this story didn’t turn into one of those it’s-ok-to-be-unfaithful-if-your-husband-sucks kind of stories. At least (SPOILER ALERT !! ) Louise gets properly divorced first.
I’ve come across many chic reads which could be summed up in the following way:
Chic leaves uncaring/abusive/complacent lover, finds THE PERFECT MAN, and lives happily ever after. Because of course, we know that since she’s finally met Mr. Right, there will never be a diminishing sex life, he will ALWAYS listen and understand, and life will be awesome because now he COMPLETES HER.
That’s not how life works, is it? Last time I checked, a woman that comes from a disturbed childhood is very likely to fall into an unwise match. This then leads to more insecurity issues which can only be resolved by herself. Not magical Mr. Right. (We can blame Disney later for instilling this fantastical illusion during our naive toddler years.)
While it’s true that Louise makes several stupid mistakes along the path to healing, I believe that in this respect, the author has it right. It would be highly unrealistic to expect that the 30+ years of our protagonist’s insecurities to be resolved in a short span of time. It’s gonna take time and a couple of forehead slaps to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
As for the characters themselves, the only ones fully developed are Louise and her husband. But we don’t really get to see much of her husband past the first few chapters, so really, we’re mostly left with Louise and glimpses of her Colin, her gay flatmate, and soon to be best friend, Ria.
I found Colin to be the voice of reason when Louise needed a bitch slap. For that, I immensely appreciate the fellow! As well as for possessing a brilliant and sardonic sense of humor.
Ria is lovelable as well, and one cannot help but wonder about a mysterious broken engagement in her past. The author never quite gives us all the details, and for the purpose of her character, it worked. After all, even those closest to us have secrets they may not always share. It’s life.
Now the good one. Louise. Oh Louise…there were times when I wanted to slap you, wring my hands at your stupidity, and then give you a hug. For the first half of the book, you represent the hundreds of hurting women out there who are too afraid to let go of their past and bloom into wonderful new creatures. Then in the second half you speedily improved, after realizing you could be beautiful again. You realized it was ok to grieve, but you also decided it was time to move on. It took you a while, but you finally decided to change for yourself, not for the sake of hopefully attracting Mr. Right. Louise, you are a brave woman.
“Either you intrinsically understand the attraction of searching for hidden treasure amongst rows of dusty shelves or you don’t; it’s a passion bordering on a spiritual illness, which cannot be explained to the unafflicted.”
“Elegance may be in the details, but my situation appears to be a little more serious than that. Clearly, drastic action is needed.”
“They (therapists) always want to know why; there’s really not much difference between a therapist and a four-year-old.”
“What people respond to, what is such a mistake, is not that you are different, but that you are ashamed to be different.”
Well, Jane Austen it’s not. But that doesn’t mean Kathleen Tessaro isn’t a good writer. I personally found her writing style both witty and clever. I had several laugh out loud moments. Not all “chic reads” do that for me. I loved that it wasn’t cheesy. If anything, I’d say Kathleen Tessaro displays a fine sense of class throughout this story. I felt enriched by the end of it. I’m sure you will too.
I can’t often say this of all books I read, but this book is simply delicious. And funny.
I can’t honestly give it a 5-star rating of excellence, since I’m a bit of a book snob when it comes to chic lit, but I can most certainly give it a 4.5 ! (It’s just sooo good, it’s almost a 5, but not quite!)