Monday, 11 January 2016

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

I’ve always had a bit of thing for perfume and scents. I remember flooding a school bathroom in primary school trying to make perfume out of flower petals in the sink. I later got a proper perfume making kit for Christmas one year and spent many happy hours concocting bottles of scent at home. Even now, I enjoy the smells and descriptions of essential oils and I never can resist trying out all the scents in duty free when at the airport.

So it was for that reason, as well as being a hist-fic fan that I was drawn to this book about perfumers and their muses, and histories discovered. In the 1950s, newly-wed Grace Munroe leads a comfortable yet ordinary life when she is suddenly named the chief beneficiary of an estate that belonged to a woman she has never even met.

These unusual circumstances see Grace travel to Paris where she uncovers the history of a woman who has given her so much and who led such an interesting life. That woman is Eva D’Orsey, a bold, unique woman who enthralled high society in the 1920s from New York to Europe, but whose coloured past was never too far behind her.

The 1920s is a time in history I have always enjoyed reading about and there is plenty of vintage glamour and scandal portrayed as we learn how Eva came to be the person she was. Grace’s part of the tale is set in the 1950s, another time period I am also fascinated by but haven’t read much of in fiction (yet).

Grace is a former debutante, who after making a good marriage, is expected to be a devoted wife and attend all the necessary social engagements. But from the off, you see that Grace isn’t well suited to that lifestyle; she seems to think differently to other women in her social circle, she yearns for more, and the journey incited by the unexpected inheritance  gives her that opportunity to try out her much needed independence. Eva; clever, sexy and strong, was by far my favourite character. I was fascinated by her and her extraordinary life.

Of course the best element in the story for me had to be the perfume references. The process in procuring and putting together individual components of a perfume and the inspiration behind some of the scents was stunning to read. I think we forget how powerful the sense of smell is, and how closely it can be linked with memory and past experience.

The descriptions transport you right into the action of the story as if they were your own memories, which is a wonderful sensation when reading such an engaging tale. If ever a book is invented where you get to smell what you are reading, then this story should be at the top of the list to be published in that way.

Stunningly detailed and rich in history and emotion, The Perfume Collector is a fabulous novel for readers to truly get lost in. 

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