Dowdy wife gets dolled up.
Louise Canova is dimly aware that her marriage has grown cold—her husband Colin, a successful but dull actor, calls her Pumpkin, or, less kindly, Ouise (pronounced “Wheeze”). He doesn’t even care when his mother-in-law, a still-glamorous former model, is icily condescending toward his unhappy wife. Oh, what can this little brown wren do? (She has no idea.) Then, dawdling in a secondhand bookstore in London, Louise comes across a slim, jasmine-scented volume from 1964, penned by the ineffably soignée directress of a French couture house, and she experiences an epiphany. In A to Z format, the very grand and deeply conservative Madame Genevieve Antoine Dariaux offers advice on all aspects of dress and fashion, which Louise takes quite seriously. Fur-trimmed suits with gloves for afternoon? Six-acre peignoirs for those intimate evenings? Maybe her husband, if only she could afford such sartorial splendor, would notice her. But Colin seems, well, embarrassed that she would even want to change. And he knows perfectly well there’s nothing at all wrong with their relationship. On the other hand, if Louise wants to see a marriage counselor by herself, he sees nothing wrong with that. Now, if she would just listen to his remarkable plan for organizing the kitchen garbage: big bits of rubbish in the big bin, small bits in the small bin . . . . Louise’s thoughts are understandably elsewhere as she remembers ill-fated shopping excursions with her mother in Pittsburgh. Her mother was a little brown wren, too, a scientist who cut her own hair and wore frumpy clothes (never mind her intellect or education: this trite tale never questions why appearance is so important—it just is). Perhaps, muses Louise, that’s why she never thought about taking care of herself, remaining now unlovely and unloved. It’s all very sad—until other men begin to notice her. Oh, dear: Should she let Oliver take her out for a drink? Should she spurn the attention of the much younger Eddie?
Familiar fare, and stale indeed.