Elegance – Kathleen Tessaro

I first read this book more than ten years ago. (Man, I’m getting old…!) I can’t remember what it was about it that caught my eye first, but it’s become a fond favourite. I don’t re-read very often, but this understated little gem is one that I have come back to four or five times over the years, which in my eyes is a big seal of approval.

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Each time I pick it up, I remember that I loved it, but think of it as a nice light read, forgetting that it actually packs quite an emotional punch! Tessaro writes such a believable main character – she’s incredibly relatable, without being ~~Relatable!!1!~~ (i.e. Manic Pixie Dream Girl or the Cool Girlfriend tropes) – Louise, the protagonist, is realistic and someone I remember identifying strongly with – even as a young teenager the first time I read it.

Louise is decidedly no longer twenty two. She is married, and an actress (well… she’s working in the box office right now, but she’s an actress really…) and although she just fine, she’s not exactly what she would call elegant. In her own eyes, she is certainly no Audrey Hepburn. So one day, when she stumbles across an A-Z of style written by a French fashion expert, entitled with one clean word – Elegance – she knows she’s found a gem…

The narrative follows Louise as she attempts to apply the lessons of Elegance to her life. Taking it often as gospel, and sometimes rebelling mutinously, the changes – small at first – begin to snowball. Hijinks certainly do ensue, but this is what I forget between each read; that it is a very funny book in places, and quite light to read (there’s something a bit Bridget Jones-esque about the idea of a hapless fashion-unconscious married woman trying to religiously follow a guide to elegance in her life), but the narrative never veers into slapstick, as it easily could. Instead, Tessaro effortlessly works in moments of pure pathos; honestly, my heart just ached for this fictional woman. Even though I’d already read the book a bunch of times and knew what was going to happen.

There are two or three key scenes I’m thinking of – I don’t want to describe them because a) spoilers and b) the author actually describes them much better in the book anyway – where I could so clearly see Louise in my mind’s eye. I could feel what she was feeling, and I wanted to wrap my arms around her and be gentle with her and tell her that it’s all going to be ok. The vulnerability of Tessaro’s writing is absolutely breathtaking.

Basically, I love this book and I love the main character and I hope you love them too.

(If you don’t, don’t tell me because it would break my heart just a little bit.)

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