“You see, nothing is more immediate, more complete than the sense of smell. In an instant, it has the power to transport you. Your olfactory sense connects not the the memory itself, but to the emotion you felt when that memory was made. To recreate a scent memory is one of the most challenging, eloquent pursuits possible. It’s poetry, in its most immediate form.”
Ever since my yoga teacher began laying cloths spritzed with essential oils over my eyes during final rest time (Savasana), I’ve considered concocting my own unique fragrance. Nothing sultry or elegant, but a delicate aroma which could trigger scent memories, carrying me away to a place of consummate relaxation. I haven’t done it yet, but after reading this book, I want to even more.
THE PERFUME COLLECTOR tells the tale of Grace Munroe, a sheltered 1950s young Englishwoman seemingly unsuited for her current situation. The former debutante from an aristocratic family married well, yet she never fits into the fashionable social scene. Though she tries to fulfill her expectations, her outspokenness, and intellectual aspirations leave her feeling detached from her contemporaries.
A spark of excitement (and confusion) ignites her world when she receives in inheritance from an unknown benefactor in France. After she discovers her husband may be having an affair (with a socialite who is the very antithesis of her), she impulsively flies to Paris to unravel the mystery.
The story flips in narration between Grace and the mysterious benefactor, Eva d’Orsey, who we first meet as an orphaned young maid in the 1920s. Eva’s story takes us from New York to Monte Carlo, as she uses her wits, looks, and unusual talents to rise out of a life of servitude. . . in a way.
Grace’s quest to discover her connection to Eva leads her to a stunning Paris apartment and a long-abandoned Left Bank perfume shop filled with the lingering scent of secrets. By following the scent, Grace uncovers the story of brilliant perfumer and his muse, and how one can trust their own scent memories to remember the past.
Almost everyone loves a Cinderella story. Personally, I’d rather read about smart woman transformed by a sleek haircut and stunning black Balenciaga dress than a prince and a frou-frou ballgown. While this story certainly has a fairy godmother, the happily ever after focuses on a woman’s journey to find herself, not her prince charming.
The supporting characters are eccentric, egotistical, and fun to read, adding another layer of sometimes maniacal charm to the story. And as always, I love a novel that can sweep me to faraway times and places while educating me a bit on subjects I know little about. I’ll escape to Paris any day, and I had no idea how fragrances were extracted—fascinating!
The dual storylines blend intoxicatingly creating a sweeping jaunt through the decades. **possible spoiler*** Though the final mystery was no great surprise, it was still an enjoyable ride.
Though the THE PERFUME COLLECTOR is over 400 pages, it is an easy read, the plot carrying readers along at a quick pace.
I’ll certainly pay finer attention to the scents around me, and I’ll make sure I spritz some of my signature scent, Channel Allure, before I walk out the door each day.
THE PERFUME COLLECTOR is the She Reads August selection.
For more about the book, the author, and general book love, check out SheREADS.org.
About the Author: Kathleen Tessaro is the author of ELEGANCE, INNOCENCE, and THE DEBUTANTE. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son.