The Perfume Collector
by Kathleen Tesarro
Expected Publocation Date: May 14, 2013
Book Source: Publisher
London, 1955: Grace Monroe is a young newlywed, eager to make a success of her marriage. However, with her intellectual curiosity and her unladylike talent for advanced mathematics, she finds the routine of elegant luncheons and exclusive parties among post-war London’s social set more tiresome than exciting.
When Grace receives an unexpected inheritance from a woman she’s never met, she finds herself suddenly in Paris, embarking upon a journey to discover not only the identity of her mysterious benefactor but also the hidden secrets of her own past.
In a story that takes us from New York in the 1920s to mid-century Monte Carlo, Paris and London, Grace discovers a world filled with the evocative, intoxicating power of perfume; an obsessive, desperate love between muse and artist; and a trail of dark memories that may mean she isn’t the person she thinks she is at all.
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 perfume blogs. It’s a whole new world I am now determined to learn more about.
About the Author: Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Kathleen attended the University of Pittsburgh before entering the drama program of Carnegie Mellon University. In the middle of her sophomore year, she went to study in London for three months and stayed for the next twenty-three years. She began writing at the suggestion of a friend and was an early member of the Wimpole Street Writer’s Workshop. Her debut novel, Elegance, became a bestseller in hardback and paperback. All of Kathleen’s novels including Innocence, The Flirt, The Debutante, and most recently, The Perfume Collector have been translated into many languages and sold all over the world. She returned to Pittsburgh in 2009, where she now lives with her husband and son.
Learn more at HarperCollins/ the author’s website