Eleganceby Kathleen Tessaro
But when she discovers a faded volume titled Elegance in a secondhand bookshop, she believes she's found the/i>
Louise Canova should be happy and in love. But her actor husband seems to be growing distant and she doesn't know why. Is it her fault? Riddled with uncertainty, the insecurity she thought she'd left behind in adolescence comes back to haunt her.
But when she discovers a faded volume titled Elegance in a secondhand bookshop, she believes she's found the answers. Written by French fashion expert Madame Dariaux, Elegance is an encyclopedia of style that promises to transform plain women into creatures of grace and poise. From Accessories to Zippers, there's nothing Madame can't advise upon -- including inattentive husbands, false friends, and the absolute importance of seductive lingerie.
The lessons Louise learns have a surprising effect and an outcome she never expected. Within the book's pages lie clues to her past, and she discovers that everything, even elegance, has its price.
- Goldmann Wilhelm GmbH
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Read an Excerpt
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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