In Which I Read About Cats and Like It

I recently re-watched The Devil Wears Prada and The September Issue. Then, for Christmas, I got Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington. In hindsight, this was probably not coincidental as the person that bought me the book also suggested the viewing material. But it made for a very cohesive movie/book experience.

Having now finished Grace: A Memoir I feel kind of bad for loving The Devil Wears Prada so much. Grace has very strong feelings about the movie, as does Ms. Anna Wintour and while I can’t say I blame them, I would also disagree. Grace maintains that the movie makes fashion and fashion people look superficial and stupid. And in the beginning that, and the terror Meryl Streep’s character inspires, is the point. But things don’t really start to fall into place for Andi until she starts to take fashion, and the power of fashion, seriously. Fashion is a serious (and seriously glamourous) business.


Back to the book.

Grace Coddington freely admits that the only reason anyone knows who she is, is because of The September Issue. Completely true. She’s a standout in that movie. I originally saw it because I wanted the access to Anna Wintour but came away in love with Grace Coddington (although make no mistake, I’m equally enamoured of and in awe of Anna Wintour).

Grace: A Memoir takes you through the incredible life of Grace Coddington, from the rural Welsh village where she lived in a hotel, to her days at British and American Vogue. One could argue I suppose that it’s just a history of Vogue magazine but I would disagree. Although an inordinate amount of Grace’s years have been spent working at Vogue, her memoirs run chronologically for the first 2/3 maybe and then different chapters are dedicated to different aspects of her life. There’s a chapter dedicated to Anna Wintour and their working relationship (which for most of us is reason enough to buy the book), a chapter dedicated to the different photographers, make-up artists, hair stylists and models she’s worked with, and yes, even a chapter about cats. Only for Grace Coddington would I read a chapter dedicated to cats.

I’m a dog person.

The book is funny and personal and sometimes very surprising. Like, did you know that her first husband was Mr. Chow? Like Mr. Chow the restaurant. The book is also littered with her drawings of all sorts of things: Anna Wintour, Grace’s cats, different outfits she’s loved, Karl Lagerfeld, Karl Lagerfeld’s cat – it was a charming surprise.

I read this book in about a sitting. It was delicious. And such a beautiful book too. Not that we should expect anything less from the legendary Grace Coddington.

If you want to read an excerpt from the book, click here.


The Patron Saint of Liars

Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder has been on my To Read list for a very long time and I still haven’t read it. But then I read an article Patchett had written for September’s Vogue magazine (I can’t find a link to it) eulogizing her dog, Rose, and the next day I had to read something she had written.

The library didn’t have State of Wonder, but they did have The Patron Saint of Liars, her 1992 novel about a home for unmarried pregnant girls in the 1960s. I’m hooked on Ann Patchett.

The Patron Saint of Liars tells the story of Saint Elizabeth’s home for unmarried pregnant girls in stages. First we see the place through the eyes of Rose, who when she finds herself pregnant gets in the car and drives away from her mother and her husband and stops at Saint Elizabeth’s. There she finds a place for herself in the kitchen with the all knowing Sister Evangeline and decides that she wants to keep her baby after all. This is where the story is taken over by Son, the home’s handyman who marries Rose so that she can keep her baby (and because he is love with her). Turns out Son has a secret painful past of his own (because that’s how great stories work) and he’s content to let Rose keep her past to herself if she doesn’t ask about his.

When Rose’s past threatens to catch up with all of them, the story is taken over by Cecilia, Rose’s daughter. She’s had a pretty unique childhood, growing up in a home for pregnant girls who desperately want to mother someone and coddled by the nuns who run the place, thrilled to get to keep at least one baby. But Rose, who wanted so badly to keep her, doesn’t really want to have anything to do with her.

(I have to wonder, did Rose the dog get her name from this character?)

Obviously I’m paraphrasing here because I don’t want to give too much away. More happens but you need to read it for yourself and be able to enjoy it without seeing it coming.

The Patron Saint of Liars is the best kind of story – the kind that could have easily really happened somewhere once. It’s the kind of story that moves at the pace of real life. The narrators are completely open and honest with the reader, they are all totally flawed and they know it. But they all keep trying to make the best of what they’ve got.

I fell for this book hard. There’s a quote on the front from the New York Times Book Review that calls it a fairy-tale and despite there being no magic in this book at all, it’s the most appropriate description of this book. It cast a spell on me. I’ll be sad to return it to the library. But hopefully someone else will find it and love it just as much.