Full review at Review: The Perfume Collector is a lush, rich, multi layered novel that takes the reader from 1950 London social circles back in time to 1920's New York, to Monte Carlo and Paris, France. Flipping between two spaces in time it is the unraveling of the mystery behind the estate left to Grace Monroe by a woman in Paris she has never met. Grace is bored with the role she is supposed to play as a new wife and member of a titled English family of the 50's. It seems the [push is for her to look pretty and make her husband successful by her presence in social circles. She has a brilliant mind and can't seem to find her expected role interesting enough. Along comes an unexpected letter beckoning to meet with a solicitor in France to go over the terms of her inheritance and so begins the first step to discovering an altered past and a new future.
Tessaro concocts a novel that evokes all of the senses and in particular the sense of smells that tie us to memories-- the scent of rain, the familiar signature scent of our childhood and later, a love. My mind wandered to the eccentric exclusive perfume shop Grace and Monsier Tissot uncover in her search for whispers of the past.
"Even in the state of extreme neglect, the room dazzled; walls of glass and mirrors reflecting light so that Grace was blinded of r a moment. As her eyes adjusted, she could see that the space had been designed as a series of bold contrast. The dark wood counter was a rich warm mahogany. The floor was covered in black and white marble tiles. A tiered crystal chandelier, thick with dust and filmy cobwebs, hung from a heavy black silk cord in the center of the ceiling. And the shelves were filled with rows and rows of slim glass flacons, cloudy grey with dirt.
Several times you'll find yourself transported to the world of creating scent and to the field of Grasse where field of lavender abound. However, amidst the magic that is spun, there is also the dark shades of the not so glamorous night life of the Follies. Content wise there are some parts that leave a not so nice, gritty and sometimes down right yucky impression. The workings of childhood neglect, prostitution, drug use, extramarital affairs, alcohol addiction, gambling and codependency. I struggled with several elements of the lives of the characters and their moral reasoning as well as the strong sexual undercurrent that felt heavy handed at times. There is also a push and pull with feminism vs. victimization that was muddy.
Overall I will say this is unlike any other book I've ever read. It got me curious about the lives of Jews in occupied France, about the fascinating wizardry of the genius perfume makers and about life in London during the 50's. The setting awakened all of my senses and made me want to revisit several scenes that left me longing to drink in the same air as Grace.
Thanks so much to Harper Collins for the preview.
I might suggest checking out the other reviews for this one on one of the many perfume blogs. It's a whole new world I am now determined to learn more about.
You might also like Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride and The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York.
Content: adult (see review)