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Elegance ****** Kathleen Tessaro I have been a huge fan of British/Irish Chick Lit for what feels like decades: it is simply so much more charming and clever, not to mention funnier. Sorry America, but that’s definitely one department in which the European ladies are kicking your butt! I sometimes find it quite puzzling how the States, after all the unquestionable kingdom of sit-coms (some of them even somewhat mirth-inspiring) can produce so many novels completely devoid of any substance or entertainment factor. With that being said, Elegance proved to be a wonderful surprise: a book set in London (I know, aren’t they all?), but written by an actual American, who had lived there for many years. And from Pittsburgh to boot, imagine that! You’re starting to have some minor doubts? Totally uncalled for, because the result is absolutely delightful! Especially if you throw in all the invaluable advice of a classic French fashionista, a lady who knows all about being stylish, chic and elegant: the one and only Madame Dariaux! Confused? All right, let me explain. Our immigrant Heroine, Louise Canova (also from Pittsburg, surprise, surprise!) leads a life of predictable monotony, with very few thrills and accompanied by a cleaning- obsessed, detached husband. Her ultimate pleasure consists in sleeping at all hours of night (and day).  She doesn’t quite know when she’s become 30 going on 60, but her dull existence, as well as lack of any dressing sense and excessive snacking seem to be her destiny for the rest of days. Until she stumbles across a self-help book simply titled Elegance, written by  Madame Dariaux, a French fashion guru as strict as she is generous with her acquired wisdom. In this treasure she freely offers tips on everything a woman needs to know to convert herself into, if maybe not immediately a style icon, then at least a creature of the utmost sophistication and impeccable taste. Well, let’s face it: Louise needs all the help she can get. But both she and the reader remain skeptical at first at Madame’s success in this highly challenging undertaking. However, slowly but surely, the young woman begins to break through the stagnation as she tentatively attempts to follow the alphabetically listed pointers (each chapter of the novel centers around a particular entry). This Holy Grail of Fashion ultimately leads her to undergo not only a metamorphosis of the exterior, but also one of the mind and soul. She finds elegance (and looses it several times along the way), she finds herself, she finds love. All in that order. So basically it’s one of those transformation novels, from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan, from drab to fab if you will. We’ve all read them before. Why is this one special? Well, first of all it’s the way this particular book is written: light and breezy, witty and humorous, with a lot of self-irony and poignant observations.  Within the flippant, nonchalant pink fluff of typical Chick Lit, however, are disguised truly serious subjects: it’s not just the tired old quest to improve your looks and be rewarded by finding the man of your dreams. Because by pursuing the goal of acquiring a sense of style, Louise finally learns who she truly is, how to live a fulfilled life, how to realize her own dreams and ambitions. Searching for Prince Charming seems secondary at best. Only after she has improved what she can about herself and accepted what she can’t, love makes an unannounced appearance, with no fireworks or fanfares and at the least expected moment. I do agree that the plot of the novel might not necessary dazzle with innovative spirit, but its essence goes way beyond a Heroine with no bigger problems than an unfortunate haircut, a few extra pounds around the waist or a boyfriend with a wandering eye. This work actually addresses some serious and dark subjects, such as abortion, suicide, eating disorders, the search for one’s sexuality, depression, low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy. The laugh-out-loud humor serves to create a vivid contrast between the writing style and the tackled issues, making the disturbing parts somehow stand out even more. Louise realizes that in order to get her life under control, she has to deal with all the painful memories from her past. The author interrupts the present- day plot frequently with flash-backs from the Heroine’s younger days to demonstrate how certain events have affected or damaged her. This very skillful approach shows how the past and the present are intertwined, how the parallels emphasize the destructive pattern. All throughout the novel our hapless fashion apprentice is searching for her identity, trying to break away from the roles she subconsciously slides into, at last allowing herself to become a person of poise, integrity and genuine class. To finish off I would like to add that Ms. Tessaro truly deserves to be put up there with the crème de la crème of Chick Lit. Hilarious and sassy, she is also a true Virtuoso with words: her sentences are full of adornments, yet somehow manage to remain clear and striking. I would absolutely recommend this enchanting gem to anybody wishing to experience a few moments of serious reflection combined with entertainment at the highest level. And just to give you a tiny sample of the merriment that awaits you, here is a short quote from Louise’s lingerie shopping trip: “There’s nothing for it. Having failed to identify my sexual self at Agent Provocateur, I have no alternative. Let’s face it, when your secret sexual self resides at Marks&Spencer, things are looking pretty grim.”(143) Quotes come from the following edition of this novel: Tessaro, Kathleen: Elegance. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.
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Elegance ****** Kathleen Tessaro I have been a huge fan of British/Irish Chick Lit for what feels like decades: it is simply so much more charming and clever, not to mention funnier. Sorry America, but that’s definitely one department in which the European ladies are kicking your butt! I sometimes find it quite puzzling how the States, after all the unquestionable kingdom of sit-coms (some of them even somewhat mirth- inspiring) can produce so many novels completely devoid of any substance or entertainment factor. With that being said, Elegance proved to be a wonderful surprise: a book set in London (I know, aren’t they all?), but written by an actual American, who had lived there for many years. And from Pittsburgh to boot, imagine that! You’re starting to have some minor doubts? Totally uncalled for, because the result is absolutely delightful! Especially if you throw in all the invaluable advice of a classic French fashionista, a lady who knows all about being stylish, chic and elegant: the one and only Madame Dariaux! Confused? All right, let me explain. Our immigrant Heroine, Louise Canova (also from Pittsburg, surprise, surprise!) leads a life of predictable monotony, with very few thrills and accompanied by a cleaning-obsessed, detached husband. Her ultimate pleasure consists in sleeping at all hours of night (and day).  She doesn’t quite know when she’s become 30 going on 60, but her dull existence, as well as lack of any dressing sense and excessive snacking seem to be her destiny for the rest of days. Until she stumbles across a self-help book simply titled Elegance, written by  Madame Dariaux, a French fashion guru as strict as she is generous with her acquired wisdom. In this treasure she freely offers tips on everything a woman needs to know to convert herself into, if maybe not immediately a style icon, then at least a creature of the utmost sophistication and impeccable taste. Well, let’s face it: Louise needs all the help she can get. But both she and the reader remain skeptical at first at Madame’s success in this highly challenging undertaking. However, slowly but surely, the young woman begins to break through the stagnation as she tentatively attempts to follow the alphabetically listed pointers (each chapter of the novel centers around a particular entry). This Holy Grail of Fashion ultimately leads her to undergo not only a metamorphosis of the exterior, but also one of the mind and soul. She finds elegance (and looses it several times along the way), she finds herself, she finds love. All in that order. So basically it’s one of those transformation novels, from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan, from drab to fab if you will. We’ve all read them before. Why is this one special? Well, first of all it’s the way this particular book is written: light and breezy, witty and humorous, with a lot of self-irony and poignant observations.  Within the flippant, nonchalant pink fluff of typical Chick Lit, however, are disguised truly serious subjects: it’s not just the tired old quest to improve your looks and be rewarded by finding the man of your dreams. Because by pursuing the goal of acquiring a sense of style, Louise finally learns who she truly is, how to live a fulfilled life, how to realize her own dreams and ambitions. Searching for Prince Charming seems secondary at best. Only after she has improved what she can about herself and accepted what she can’t, love makes an unannounced appearance, with no fireworks or fanfares and at the least expected moment. I do agree that the plot of the novel might not necessary dazzle with innovative spirit, but its essence goes way beyond a Heroine with no bigger problems than an unfortunate haircut, a few extra pounds around the waist or a boyfriend with a wandering eye. This work actually addresses some serious and dark subjects, such as abortion, suicide, eating disorders, the search for one’s sexuality, depression, low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy. The laugh-out-loud humor serves to create a vivid contrast between the writing style and the tackled issues, making the disturbing parts somehow stand out even more. Louise realizes that in order to get her life under control, she has to deal with all the painful memories from her past. The author interrupts the present-day plot frequently with flash-backs from the Heroine’s younger days to demonstrate how certain events have affected or damaged her. This very skillful approach shows how the past and the present are intertwined, how the parallels emphasize the destructive pattern. All throughout the novel our hapless fashion apprentice is searching for her identity, trying to break away from the roles she subconsciously slides into, at last allowing herself to become a person of poise, integrity and genuine class. To finish off I would like to add that Ms. Tessaro truly deserves to be put up there with the crème de la crème of Chick Lit. Hilarious and sassy, she is also a true Virtuoso with words: her sentences are full of adornments, yet somehow manage to remain clear and striking. I would absolutely recommend this enchanting gem to anybody wishing to experience a few moments of serious reflection combined with entertainment at the highest level. And just to give you a tiny sample of the merriment that awaits you, here is a short quote from Louise’s lingerie shopping trip: “There’s nothing for it. Having failed to identify my sexual self at Agent Provocateur, I have no alternative. Let’s face it, when your secret sexual self resides at Marks&Spencer, things are looking pretty grim.”(143) Quotes come from the following edition of this novel: Tessaro, Kathleen: Elegance. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.
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