I knew I was going to love this novel from the very first chapter. I suspect that if Jane Austen had lived in twenty-first century Australia, she might have written stories a bit like Andrea Grigg's. They both use sparkling, witty dialogue and wry observations to bring every character to life, the nice and the nasty. Even the minor characters are fully fleshed out and interesting. And like Austen novels, several significant moments in 'Too Pretty' take place at dances. It begins with a country, CWA party, there's a bush dance part of the way through, and a very formal fundraiser ball toward the end.
The heroine, Ellie Paxton, is stunningly pretty, but experiences misery which normal females wouldn't imagine. Men just value her for her looks, girls are hostile and jealous, and employers don't appreciate the distraction she causes. She's used to being accused of wanting to show other females up just by standing there. Can you imagine being on the verge of feeling sorry for somebody with such a 'problem'? Ellie's best friend, Annabel, pushed me over with her sympathy. 'People don't have a clue what you go through.' Hmmm, okay, it's good to see how the other side live with such drawbacks.
One day, Ellie meets handsome Nathaniel, who is cool and apparently unimpressed by the encounter, unlike most men she's used to facing each day. The parts told from his point of view show us never to assume that we may guess what our more reserved friends are thinking! His back story, revealed gradually, is heart stirring, causing me a few tears. It helps us to forgive his occasional silly-billy moments, especially as many women may imagine him as a young Colin Firth.
Having read several American novels recently, I liked being drawn back into my own country, with its jetties, pavlovas, banged-up old utes and winter in the middle of the year. And like Jane Austen novels, our own brand of Aussie etiquette helps shape the plot. It's a book that can't help us pondering about the insidious nature of the beauty industry. Even though we pretend somebody's looks don't matter, the subject looms huge. And even though it's caused Ellie such hassle, she still wants to apply her make-up carefully and doesn't want Nathaniel (or anyone) to catch her with frizzy hair or sleepy panda eyes.
The lengths she's prepared to take to solve her problem is bound to get a reaction from readers.
I had a fun interview with Ellie here on this blog.