ELEGANCE

Kathleen Tessaro, Author . Morrow $23.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-052225-4

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)

Reviewed on: 07/07/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
Paperback - 319 pages - 978-0-06-052227-8
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-06-055418-7
Hardcover - 319 pages - 978-0-00-639273-6
Paperback - 390 pages - 978-0-00-715143-1
Hardcover - 384 pages - 978-0-00-715142-4
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-2-226-13797-5
Hardcover - 978-0-00-200545-6
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