Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro

I have always admired Audrey-Hepburn-like-elegance, but alas, my body and temperament opt for comfort.  Once, on a daily basis, I achieved tailored and professional — but never elegant.

This appreciation for long necks and sleek evening dresses must have caused me to acquire this book.  I found it during my January book clean out and stacked it on my bedside table, unsure, but vowing to give it my 50 page audition.

The other night I picked up Elegance, and was surprised to find myself chuckling at this cute concoction.  I’m not a fan of chic lit, but the premise is clever.

The author actually found 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. Ms. Tassaro, with permission from Dariaux, wrote this novel based on her find.  See?  Clever right?

The novel uses the advice from Dariaux at the start of each chapter, such as this from the opening:

What is elegance?  It is a sort of harmony that rather resembles beauty with the difference that the latter is more often a gift of nature and the former a result of art.  If I may be permitted to use a high sounding word for such a minor art.  I would say that to transform a plain woman in to an elegant one is my mission in life.

Our protagonist, Louise, either heeds or disregards this out-dated (and often derivative) advice as she contemplates her own disastrous life.

Louise is an imperfectly real character. Her past is filled with eating issues, difficult parents, failed relationships, and a lackluster career.

Her marriage is over:

It’s been months now – months of conversations, arguments, silences, tears.  We have ‘given it one more week’ again and again and again.  It’s like trying to amputate a limb with spoon.

Louise is not getting anything from her therapy sessions:

[Therapists] always want to know why; there’s not a lot of difference between a therapist and a four-year old.

She doesn’t have any close girlfriends to talk to, she’s lost, and can’t pinpoint what she really wants.

Then one day Louise finds Dariaux‘s slim volume in a London used bookshop.  I just have to share this lovely passage ~~ hail comrade!:

My husband claims I have an unhealthy obsession with secondhand bookshops. That I spend too much time daydreaming altogether. But 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 unaffected.

With Dariaux’s self help book, Louise begins to change herself and her life — much goes well, some does not.  She applies a self-tanning cream which turns her orange just before a job interview.  Louise unwittingly invests a small fortune at a department store makeup counter and discovers fine lingerie.

Louise not only adapts to high heels, she starts opening up to those around her, breaking out of her shell.  She dumps her soul-sucking therapist.  She leaves her husband.  Friendships are formed and she even lands a new job.  In one of my favorite chapters, Louse is invited to a typical English country house weekend, which is described in delicious detail – from the village names to the parlor room games in the evening.

Louise comes into herself and her life — but it is not a fairy tale ending.  It’s as imperfect and real as she is.  Turns out yes, elegance has it’s rewards but also a price.

Elegance makes for a fun evening, like sharing ice cream straight from the carton with a good friend.  A light and fluffy break from those dark thrillers (I’ve had enough of those for a bit) or the nightly news.


Genevieve Antoine Dariaux’s 1964 original advice volume is still in print and available – see more HERE

Elegance is Ms. Tassaro‘s first novel, published in 2003 and she has since had several best sellers in the same realm.  See her books HERE.











Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *