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Crescent Blues Book ViewsAvon (Trade Paperback), ISBN 0060522275

"Beauty is no guarantee of happiness. Strive instead for elegance, grace and style." These are the pivotal lines from the book that changes dreary, scared and old-before-her-time Louise Canova into a trendy sex-pot and finally into an elegant women unafraid to try and fail.

Book: kathleen teessaro, elegance
Married to a man whose attitude towards her barely rises to indifference, mired in a decidedly untherapeutic course of therapy, Louise's life lacks a certain something -- color, joy and any sort of hope for starters. Luckily Louise does not remain this washed out shell for long. While puttering around a used bookstore, she chances upon an old book covered in silver velvet, entitled simply Elegance. Written by the well-coifed Madame Dariaux, the handbook not only offers advice on clothing and accessories, but on life. Louise quickly learns that her life lacks elegance as well as happiness and sets about to change it, using the old primer as a bible.

Each chapter of the paperback (as opposed to the velvet clad) Elegance begins with an appropriate passage from the alphabetically arranged guide. In a short time, Louise makes vast upheavals in her life. She tackles her wardrobe first, purging it of safe, reliable browns and replacing her shapeless dresses with sensible, yet fashionable clothes. She then turns to her emotional closet, ending her dead-end relationships with both her heartbreakingly aloof husband and the irritating therapist who simply parroted her own words back to her.

Armed with a new wardrobe, a gym-toned body and an obsession with the new director at the playhouse where she works, Louise sets out on her own, moving in with her co-worker Colin and his flatmate, Ria. Trying to find her identity, Louise bumbles through single life. She screws up a lot. At times, her obvious lack of sense irritates the reader instead of engendering sympathy. Some of her faux pas seem contrived, but for the most part, her tribulations are funny and familiar.

Throughout the novel, Tessaro reveals clues to the origins of the scared dormouse Louisa became and how she came to live in England so far from her Pittsburgh roots. The author deftly hints at childhood traumas, which makes Louise's newfound bravery all the more touching. Always afraid of being alone, Louise, with the help of her flatmates and the venerable Mme. Dariaux, learns to reveal her true, unique self and stops being afraid to try and even to fail.

Tessaro paints Louise wonderfully. A woman with a past littered with mishaps and missteps, she nevertheless strides forward, complete with trepidation and flaws. Elegance moves quickly through a changing time in one women's life and offers humor and poignancy as well as some decent, if slightly dated, advice to the rest of us through the words of Mme. Dariaux.

Ceridwen Lewin

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