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3.5 21
by Kathleen Tessaro

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Louise C. wants what Jackie O had ...

Unhappy with her looks, her life, and her empty marriage, Louise Canova needs help -- and she finds it in a secondhand bookstore. A forty-year-old encyclopedia of style titled Elegance, this slim volume by formidable French fashion expert Madame Dariaux promises to transform even the plainest of women into creatures


Louise C. wants what Jackie O had ...

Unhappy with her looks, her life, and her empty marriage, Louise Canova needs help -- and she finds it in a secondhand bookstore. A forty-year-old encyclopedia of style titled Elegance, this slim volume by formidable French fashion expert Madame Dariaux promises to transform even the plainest of women into creatures of poise and grace. It is a fairy godmother in print, an A-to-Z manual with essential advice that Louise vows to take to heart. But within its pages lie not only clues from her past, but also powerful lessons for the future. And as the old Louise gives way to the stunning new, she's about to find out that there's more to every life than what appears on the surface ... and that everything, even elegance, has its price.

Editorial Reviews

Pittsburgh Tribune
“A deeply nuanced work.”
“Witty…proves that confidence never goes out of fashion.”
New Woman
“A brilliant read with fashion advice thrown in!”
Arizona Republic
“Fabulous fiction. Expect to laugh and maybe pick up some Grace Kelly — Jackie O-esque tips.”
USA Today
“Through vivid descriptions, lively mishaps and devastating details, Tessaro serves up a witty, original, fast–moving debut.”
Daily Express (UK)
“A breath of fresh air in a wold of increasingly tired–looking chick–lit… a stylish antidote to girly fluff.”
Romantic Times
“Funny and witty…devilishly fun to read.”
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. (July) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Louise Canova has never realized how classy and fashionable she isn't until she wanders into a secondhand London bookstore and accidentally discovers a remarkable volume about how to be elegant. Empowered by the advice of Madame Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, a sophisticated French expert on grace and style, Louise does exactly what the book says to do. Ironically, in her imitation of elegance, she somehow manages to find her true self. Fans of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary will love this unique Pygmalion tale, an impressive debut novel. Each chapter begins with a quote from Madame Dariaux's manual. The contrast between Louise's earthy, Pittsburgh vocabulary and the cool, aloof text on elegance is almost as startling as that between the depressed, insecure Louise at the beginning of the book and the confident Louise at the end. Published in 1964, Elegance is an actual handbook written by the real Madame Dariaux, now a chic and sophisticated 88-year-old. Tessaro, an expatriate American, lives in London. Recommended for fiction collections of all sizes. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/03.]-Shelley Mosley, Glendale P.L., AZ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Dowdy wife gets dolled up. Louise Canova is dimly aware that her marriage has grown cold--her husband Colin, a successful but dull actor, calls her Pumpkin, or, less kindly, Ouise (pronounced "Wheeze"). He doesn’t even care when his mother-in-law, a still-glamorous former model, is icily condescending toward his unhappy wife. Oh, what can this little brown wren do? (She has no idea.) Then, dawdling in a secondhand bookstore in London, Louise comes across a slim, jasmine-scented volume from 1964, penned by the ineffably soignée directress of a French couture house, and she experiences an epiphany. In A to Z format, the very grand and deeply conservative Madame Genevieve Antoine Dariaux offers advice on all aspects of dress and fashion, which Louise takes quite seriously. Fur-trimmed suits with gloves for afternoon? Six-acre peignoirs for those intimate evenings? Maybe her husband, if only she could afford such sartorial splendor, would notice her. But Colin seems, well, embarrassed that she would even want to change. And he knows perfectly well there’s nothing at all wrong with their relationship. On the other hand, if Louise wants to see a marriage counselor by herself, he sees nothing wrong with that. Now, if she would just listen to his remarkable plan for organizing the kitchen garbage: big bits of rubbish in the big bin, small bits in the small bin . . . . Louise’s thoughts are understandably elsewhere as she remembers ill-fated shopping excursions with her mother in Pittsburgh. Her mother was a little brown wren, too, a scientist who cut her own hair and wore frumpy clothes (never mind her intellect or education: this trite tale never questions why appearance is so important--it justis). Perhaps, muses Louise, that’s why she never thought about taking care of herself, remaining now unlovely and unloved. It’s all very sad--until other men begin to notice her. Oh, dear: Should she let Oliver take her out for a drink? Should she spurn the attention of the much younger Eddie? Familiar fare, and stale indeed. Agent: Johnny Geller/Curtis Brown

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

It's a freezing cold night in February and my husband and I are standing outside of the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

"Here we are," he says. But neither of us move.

"Look," he bargains with me, "if it's dreadful, we'll just leave. We'll stay for one drink and go. We'll use a code word: potato. When you want to go, just say the word potato in a sentence and then I'll know you want to leave. OK?"

"I could always just tell you I want to leave," I point out.

He frowns at me. "Louise, I know you don't want to do this, but you could at least make an effort. She's my mother, for Christ's sake and I promised we'd come. It's not every day that you're part of a major photographic exhibition. Besides, she really likes you. She's always saying how the three of us ought to get together."

The three of us.

I sigh and stare at my feet. I'm dying to say it: potato. Potato, potato, potato.

I know it's a complete cliché to hate your mother-in-law. And I abhor a cliché. But when your mother-in-law is a former model from the 1950s who specializes in reducing you to a blithering pulp each time you see her, then there is really only one word that springs to mind. And that word is potato.

He wraps an arm around me. "This really isn't a big deal, Pumpkin."

I wish he wouldn't call me Pumpkin.

But there are some things you do, if not for love, than at least for a quiet life. Besides, we'd paid for a cab, he'd had a shave, and I was wearing a long gray dress I normally kept in a plastic dry cleaning bag. We 'd come too far to turn back now.

I lift my head and force a smile. "All right, let's go." We walk past the two vast security guards and step inside.

I strip off my brown woolly overcoat and hand it to the coat check attendant, discreetly passing my hand over my tummy for a spot check. I can feel the gentle protrusion. Too much pasta tonight. Comfort food. Comfort eating. Why tonight, of all nights? I try to suck it in but it requires too much effort. So I give up.

I hold out my hand. He takes it, and together we walk into the cool, white world of the Twentieth-Century Galleries. The buzz and hum of the crowd engulfs us as we make our way across the pale marble floor. Young men and women, dressed in crisp white shirts, swing by balancing trays of champagne and in an alcove a jazz trio are plucking out the sophisticated rhythms of "Mack the Knife."

Breathe, I remind myself, just breathe.

And then I see them: the photographs. Rows and rows of stunning black and white portraits and fashion shots, a collection of the famous photographer Horst's work from the 1930s through to the late 60s, mounted against the stark white walls, smooth and silvery in their finish. The flawless, aloof faces gaze back at me. I long to linger, to lose myself in the world of the pictures.

However, my husband grips my shoulder and propels me forward, waving to his mother, Mona, who's standing with a group of stylish older women at the bar.

"Hello!" he shouts, suddenly animated, coming over all jolly and larger than life. The tired, silent man in the cab is replaced by a dazzling, gregarious, social raconteur.

Mona spots us and waves back, a little half scooping royal wave, the signal for us to join her. Turning our shoulders sideways, we squeeze through the crowd, negotiating drinks and lit cigarettes. As we come into range I pull a face that I hope passes as a smile.

She is wonderfully, fantastically, superhumanly preserved. Her abundant silver-white hair is swept back from her face in an elaborate chignon, making her cheekbones appear even more prominent and her eyes feline. She holds herself perfectly straight, as if she spent her entire childhood nailed to a board and her black trouser suit betrays the casual elegance of Donna Karan's tailoring. The women around her are all cut from the same, expensive cloth and I suspect we're about to join in on a kind of aging models' reunion.

"Darling!" She takes her son's arm and kisses him on both cheeks. "I'm so pleased you could make it!" My husband gives her a little squeeze.

"We wouldn't miss it for the world, would we, Louise?"

"Certainly not!" I sound just that bit too bright to be authentic.

She acknowledges me with a brisk nod of the head, then turns her attention back to her son. "How's the play, darling? You must be exhausted! I saw Gerald and Rita the other day; they said you were the best Constantine they'd ever seen. Did I tell you that?" She turns to her collection of friends. "My son's in The Seagull at the National! If you ever want tickets, you must let me know."

He holds his hands up. "It's completely sold out. There's not a thing I can do."

Out comes the lower lip. "Not even for me?"

"Well," he relents, "I can try."

She lights a cigarette. "Good boy. Oh, let me introduce you, this is Carmen, she's the one with the elephants on the far wall over there and this is Dorian, you'll recognize at least her back from the famous corset shot, and Penny, well, you were the face of 1959, weren't you!"

We all laugh and Penny sighs wistfully, extracting a packet of Dunhills from her bag. "Those were the days! Lend me a light, Mona?"

Mona passes her a gold, engraved lighter and my husband shakes his head ...

Elegance. Copyright © by Kathleen Tessaro. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Kathleen Tessaro is the author of Elegance, Innocence, The Flirt, and The Debutante. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband and son.

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Elegance 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Starts off strong but quickly begins to drift. A lot of time wasted on characters and scenarios that don't pay off or come to any interesting conclusion. The protagonist is unsympathetic -- her problems are all self-created. She doesn't seem to grow or change, even though that is supposedly the point of the story. Interesting idea, but not skillfully written.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a happy find! Amidst all the Bridget Jones rip-offs that try too hard and give us no one of interest, this book stands apart as a well-written, intelligent, thoughtful work. The protagonist is beautifully drawn, and the reader is with her for every step and every emotion of her journey. It's a wonderful thing when the contents of a book are as marvelous as its cover! (I liked this book so much, I got a copy of The Guide to Elegance by Madame Dariaux, which inspired this novel -- in fact, I'm giving copies of Elegance and The Guide as a pair for Christmas gifts to my girlfriends!)
Guest More than 1 year ago
Frome the front cover to the very last page, is a book well written and stylishly put together. I was consistantly wraped in the main character's journey to elegance through her life, friends, and lessons learned.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book's cover and black edging initially caught my eye. I then read the 'blurb' and decided that it might be an intersting read. Started reading it (while cooking supper!) the same day thinking I would just read leisurely; but I ended up finishing it in no time at all. Was very glad I bought it as it turned out to be a deceptively simple book that leaves you with warm and happy feelings in the end. Would write more praise about this book but am obviously not a writer so can't adequately express how wonderful this book is! Will definitely be on the lookout for her next one...hope I don't have to wait too long.
LisaDunckley 9 months ago
A cut above most Chick Lit, this book is funny and well written. Louise Canova discovers an old book called Elegance, written to advise women (and this is an actual book!). At the same time, she is feeling that she and her husband have drifted apart. Louise moves in with her friend Colin and his roommate Ria, and strives to become more “elegant”, with the advice from the book. Will she get back together with her husband—or does she even want to? What about Oliver, the new guy at work who seems intrigued with her? Is she even ready to move on? And why is it so hard to walk the fine line between sexy and cheap—because Elegance sometimes seems too adult and boring! As an American living in England, Louise is hysterically funny when attending a Weekend In The Country with her coworkers, or when describing her attempts at wearing the appropriate attire. She gradually comes to realize what she wants, what she needs, and what she is looking for—and makes us laugh the whole way!
xoxo_leigh More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the combination of the book inside a book. Found much of Madame Dariaux's "Elegance" book excerpts to be quite entertaining, as a look back at women's etiquette but almost as fascinating is how the rules still currently apply. It's interesting to think which story enabled the other. Was it the hope of grace and sophistication that the book "Elegance" promised or was it Louis's determination in making a change in her boring, unhappy, empty marriage life? I really enjoy Kathleen's witty, clever and sarcastic writing style following Louise as she fumbles and fails as she awkwardly finds her path to inner elegance through her divorce, friendships, dating and self-revelation. A very fun, clever and realistic read. xoxo_leigh
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Vovo More than 1 year ago
I was trying to find the actual book, but, in the end, I could only find the audio book, which may have hindered me from fully appreciating the novel the way it deserves. So I will write what I was able to gather, and I will suggest to readers that they read the actual book, because there is something to be said about the feel of pages between hands, the smell of paper, the experience of reading as well as the process of it. I found that Louise was very easy to relate to and indeed to have empathy for. Her life was a bit messy and complex, and we follow her as she stumbles through a simple guide to elegance. Although somewhat crude at times, the book nicely portrayed the common mistakes that many people make in fashion and in romance. I especially liked the quotes from Madame Dariaux.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Some classic references to amazing attire tied with a beautiful bow of a modern dance cinderella story told backwards.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To be honest, my friend lent this book to me and, a 'cover girl' who usually sticks to historical romances, I was hesitant to read a book titled ELEGANCE with a wispy model-type figure on a black & white cover. I can't even tell you how long I avoided starting this book--it sitting on my nightstand table for months--but once I did, I was SO happily surprised (and feeling a little bit guilty at mistrusting my friend's judgement). I loved it! I know both myself and many of my friends have 'been' Louise many a time--and relating to her, I often found myself cringing in sympathy or laughing out loud at the everyday horrors of Louise's imperfect/normal life. A quick, light-hearted read, I highly recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a delight of a book! An interesting, three-dimensional heroine and a supporting cast of charming minor characters. A true feel-good treat. Fans of 'What Not to Wear' and 'America's Next Top Model' will adore this frothy tale.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A great summertime book. Its funny how a 'how to book' can have an influence on people.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book was enjoyable because of the old, odd excerpts from Genevieve Dariaux's Elegance. It made me want that book also. The story typifies many American women's need to makeover themselves every so often but it makes it a fun event. I found the book to be fun and it would be a great book to make into an altered book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had read good things about this book and wasn't disappointed. I enjoyed it throughtly. Yes, some of the advice is dated-isn't that part of the fun. Overall, I laughted and delighted in the evolution into swan of the ugly duckling heroine. What is surprising is that that old silly advice really does still resonate. LOVED IT!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you think that you will get some advice from this book on being elegant then save your money, or better yet, your effort. The book lures you in very well in the beginning with well written instructions but wanes down dramatically when it passes the 200 page mark, too far to stop. The antiquated ways of elegance explained in this book are downright tacky, corny, simply unacceptable in this day and age. It is of no surprise that the main character ends up with someone who could care less about her clothes, or Wellingtons! Yes, this book is about being English, and acting English although the desperately seeking elegance gal is American, interesting right.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a very unique idea for a book, but the author lost me half way though. I loved the excerpts from the old book about 'elegance', but it seemed like this chick had every cliche' problem on earth! Suddenly in one chapter, out of the blue, you find out she has an eating disorder. What? At the beginning of the book the girl was fat! Plus, I was soooo sick of hearing her whine about stupid things. (oh, boo-hoo, she has to go to Ascot) It's not a completely bad book, but it could have been much better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a fan of chick lit and especially those novels that invoke the glamour of a more gracious time, I was excited about this book. Unfortunately the somewhat charming beginning evolves into a horrible, self-pitying, vulgar diatribe by the whining narrator who is so very preoccupied with her 'shocking' dark past. Neither truly romantic nor truly modern, the moral of the story is: This is a tale, truly told by an idiot, lacking in any kind of sophistication or intelligence.