Tuesday, 1 April 2008

REVIEW: Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro

"Being beautiful is no guarantee of happiness in this world. Strive instead for elegance, grace and style.”
I picked up this book at WH Smith in London. The elegant lady on the dust jacket was irresistible and I’m sure even men would give her a second glance. Despite its pretty appearance, I found it hard to categorize this book under “chicklit” as I feel it’s more than that.

"Elegance" by Kathleen Tessaro is about Louise Canova’s transformation from an “Ugly Duckling” into a classic beauty with the help of a 40 year old manual by a Madame Genevieve Antoine Dariaux.
Initially, Louise uses the beauty manual, "A Guide to Elegance: For Every Woman Who Wants to Be Well and Properly Dressed on All Occasions" to help freshen up her personal image – in the end, it becomes a survival guide for Louise to revive her personal identity after her failed marriage.

Each chapter begins with A, B, C and so forth according to the letter Louise is on in her manual. Starting with superficial changes like colour coordination and simple cuts for suits, Louise becomes less and less the frumpy housewife she is. Ironically, everyone around her, except her husband, appreciates the subtle changes.

Louise is frustrated and angry but soon realizes that “It takes two to tango” and her playwright husband isn’t her leading man. Louise moves out for a trial separation and finds herself at her colleague’s doorstep – gay Owen and his room-mate Ria. Together, the unexpected threesome help Louise pick up the pieces of her life and rediscover herself, which entails ditching the self-help manual altogether.

 Once an “Ugly Duckling” myself, I enjoyed reading the book both for the story and the golden nuggets on style and deportment. Not one who believes in looks is everything, I do believe in stepping your best foot forward. No matter what shape or size you are, you owe it to yourself to look your best! Like many married women, Louise let herself go and forgets the woman she was before.

One interesting episode in the book is when her room-mates confront her about “covering up” when she was in their presence. To her horror, she discovers that she’s always in a half-undressed state – it all stems from an unconscious desire to be noticed by her husband who never gave her the attention she craved for. She cries helplessly when Owen helps her pull her robe together and hide her nakedness, assuring her that she doesn’t need to bare it all to show that she’s beautiful.

This called to mind women who dressed in styles that scream, “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!” Are they also craving for attention they are not getting? I’m also reminded of the disgusted cries my male friends made when an obviously sexy friend approached. I was surprised - they replied that she was more desperate than sexy. To them, sexy is showing some skin, which tantalizes them to want to see more. Hmm…fashion for thought, ladies.

This is Kathleen Tessaro’s first novel and I’m looking forward to her upcoming one because this lady can sure spin a story!

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