Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Perfume Collector - Kathleen Tessaro

A thousand apologies for being so late to the party with the most recent She Reads selection, "The Perfume Collector".  The book arrived while I was in Indiana on vacation, at which time I was obsessed and immersed with "Night Film" (review coming soon).  But better late than never.

I knew nothing about the premise of the book, but the word "perfume" was a huge flashing neon light. I have had friends call me "Olafactory Sandy", you see.  I am a nutcase when it comes to candles, incense, plug-ins, as well as perfumes.  I visited Grasse once in France, where they are famous for making perfumes.  After getting the tour, I swore that I was destined to be a "nose", or a person who can distinguish between thousands of scents and use them to blend fragrances.  I'm putting that on my list of things to do once the kids go to college (haha).  So I digress.  The book.

Synopsis:  Is it the mid-1950's, and we are introduced to Grace Munroe, a young London socialite who feels a bit out of place in her role as wife and coordinator of her husband's social schedule.  Her world is turned upside-down when she learns that a Parisian woman named Eva d'Orsey, a complete stranger, has left her entire sizable estate to Grace.  Mystified, Grace travels to France and with the help of Eva's attorney, begins digging into Eva's past and try to discover the connection.

In alternating chapters, we also travel back in time to 1927, and Eva's meager beginnings as a maid in a New York City hotel.  With her intelligence and ambition, Eva leverages her connections with hotel clients to catapult her to London, Monte Carlo and Paris.  Most fateful of these relationships is one made with a legendary perfumer and her talented apprentice, who finds a muse in Eva.

This is a story of discovery, of sacrifice, and the powerful art of scent.

My thoughts:  Overall, I found this book to be entertaining, primarily because, like I said before, I am enamored with the olafactory sense.  The descriptions of what goes into making a scent, and the discussions of how scent can trigger an emotion or memory...I get this.  I find the whole topic to be hypnotic.

But the plot itself was very soft and predictable.  There weren't any surprises - it was if the story was laid out in front of me from the beginning.  Which is not a fatal flaw necessarily!  Following the life of Eva and Grace's journey of self-discovery was pleasant, the storytelling kept me turning the pages.

I did feel that the character development felt one-dimensional however.  Eva and Grace both underwent major changes in their lives, ones that were pivotal.  We know WHY they happened but we didn't get to see much of the process.  With the turn of a page, their personalities were just different.  So I guess at the end of the story, I felt there were some missed opportunities to get a better look inside these two remarkable women.

Nevertheless, this was a quick and enjoyable read, and one that reminded me that I need to brush up my resume for my future career in Grasse.

3 out of 5 stars      


Beth F said...

I've never been a perfume wearer -- I'm pretty sensitive to scents. Sorry this wasn't a more stellar read for you.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like a good book for the beach.

Anna said...

I've been interested in scent-making since I read The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose. I think I would enjoy the descriptions in this book, but the "very soft and predictable" plot makes me less excited about it.

Heidenkind said...

I suppose you've read Perfume by Patrick Suskind, then?

JoAnn said...

I love scents, too - perfume, candles, air fresheners - so that aspect of the book appeals to me, but I also love character development. Like Kathy says, it might be an appealing beach read.

Anonymous said...

I definitely liked this one more than you did, but I feel that you appreciated the perfume stuff way more than I did. I liked the stories of the two women, especially Eva, much more.

Julie P. said...

Sometimes I don't mind predictability, but I think I was expecting more from a book like this.

Darlene said...

I think I liked this one way more than you did. It was predictable but I actually didn't mind that. Maybe it was just at the time I read it - it fit with my mood.