I received this book for free from the publisher / She Reads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
Published by Harper on May 14, 2013
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: the publisher / She Reads
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London, 1955. Grace Munroe is in a loveless marriage with a cheating husband. Having lived a rather sheltered childhood in Oxford, her marriage has also thrown her into the fashionable, upscale social circles in London, which she is not fond of. Social conventions be damned. Even though her tendency to be meek means she tends to do as her husband wishes, she isn’t happy with that arrangement. Of course, finding out that her husband is cheating on her doesn’t make any of it any easier.
Then one day Grace receives a letter from France, informing her that she is the sole recipient of a large inheritance left to her by a woman named Eva d’Orsey. The problem? Grace has never even heard of Eva and has no idea who this woman is.
So Grace goes to Paris to meet with Eva’s lawyers and to see if she can learn something about her benefactress. The story then moves back and forth between the present (1955) and Eva’s past (the 1920s and ’30s). Grace discovers the world of perfumers and is told Eva’s story through the three unique perfumes Eva inspired during her lifetime.
Okay. I’m going to start off with the part of the book I wasn’t fond of and just get it out of the way. Grace’s part of the story was disappointing. It was predictable, flat, and pretty boring. Sucky marriage, blah, cheating husband, blah, blah, handsome lawyer, blah blah blah, finds herself and wins the day. Whatever. The tiny bit of romance in Grace’s story was pretty bad, too. It didn’t feel the least bit believable. Everything about Grace’s part of the story just felt rushed and shallow.
Now, Eva’s story? Très bien! Eva’s part of the story kept me reading. Eva’s past was interesting and complicated and heartbreaking. Eva was by far my favorite character in the book (and I think she’s supposed to be–she’s really the only character who Tessaro spends a lot of time on development-wise, in my opinion).
I also loved the parts about perfume and professional perfumers. I’m not a fan of perfume for a few reasons, but the main reason is that I can never find anything that I truly love the smell of. Everything on the market these days is either too strong, or too flowery, or too something. Also? Everyone smells the same. When people buy popular perfumes, it stands to reason that there are going to be tons of people who all smell the same. How boring.
Perfume should tell a story–the story of who you are, who you might be, perhaps even of who you fear becoming…all of these things are possible. It’s a very intimate element of a woman, just like her signature or the sound of her voice. And it conveys feelings and states of being that have no name, no language. Its very ambiguity makes it truer than words because, unlike words, it can’t be manipulated or misunderstood.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to commission a perfumer to design a perfume specifically to one’s tastes? A perfume that compliments one’s own natural body scent and personality? Or a perfume that reminds one of another time and place, that brings back good memories? If I could do that, I would have two or three different perfumes that I would wear, depending on my mood. I think that would be awesome.
The bottom line is this: there were a couple of things that disappointed me about The Perfume Collector, but the things that kept me reading made up for that. Tessaro’s writing is smooth and easy to read–I could have easily read this book in just a couple of days. I loved that the book highlighted women who defied social convention and made their own decisions. I’m glad that I learned so much about the art of designing perfumes–that was very interesting to me. Overall, I’m glad I read The Perfume Collector and I’d recommend it to those who enjoy reading historical fiction and/or to those who are interested in reading about the art of perfume-making.