A Woman of Style

Colin McDowell, Author
Colin McDowell, Author Crown Publishing Group (NY) $20 (408p) ISBN 978-0-517-58885-7
Paperback - 532 pages - 978-0-595-00363-1
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Smart Woman, Foolish Choices could be the subtitle of this messy compilation of all the usual commercial-novel ingredients: the fashion world, an underdog heroine, rich aristocrats, scandal, secrets and manipulative gossiping. Strong-willed Constance Simpson escapes the harshness of her Northumberland home, first to work in London as a couture designer's assistant, then to travel to Italy with her aunt. On the train to Rome, she meets charming aristocrat Ludovico Castelfranco di Villanuova. Abandoning all caution, she marries him five days later, only to find that, while rich in title, the feckless Ludo is poor in cash. To gain independence from his controlling mother, Constance opens a hat shop, which soon grows into a full-fledged couture house. But while Maison Constanza is booming, Constance's marriage is failing, the victim of her husband's lies and infidelities and what she deems his ``Italian temperament.'' Constance, ever striving for security and independence, continues to pour heart and soul into the firm, to the exclusion of all else. She never fully resolves the conflicts between nurturing her relationship to Ludovico and her children and seeking the thrills she gets from power and success. Despite a quick pace, the novel (the first from fashion writer and designer McDowell) is bogged down by essentially unappealing and, most damaging, weakly drawn characters. (Oct.)
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