Friday, 12 April 2013

Review: The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro AND GIVEAWAY

Book cover of The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
Okay, so this is the fifth book in a row I've read that features somebody called Grace. Go see Delirium, Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea and The Last Runaway - this is actually getting slightly strange. I'm going to be talking about 'Grace' in my sleep and Lewis is going to think I'm having an affair with someone called Grace, who would have to be a fictional character because, ironically, I don't know anybody called Grace. And I've put too much thought into this.

Plot summary: One letter will turn newly-married Grace Munroe’s life upside down:

‘Our firm is handling the estate of the deceased Mrs Eva D’Orsey and it is our duty to inform you that you are named as the chief beneficiary in her will. We request your presence at our offices at your earliest convenience, so that we may go through the details of your inheritance.’

There is only one problem. Grace has never heard of Eva D’Orsey.

So begins a journey which leads Grace through the streets of Paris and into the seductive world of perfumers and their muses. An abandoned perfume shop on the Left Bank will lead her to unravel the heartbreaking story of her mysterious benefactor, an extraordinary woman who bewitched high society in 1920s New York and Paris.

The Perfume Collector alternates between the story of Grace Munroe in the 1950s as she unravels the story of her mysterious benefactress and a young Eva d'Orsey in the 1920s. It's an interesting technique and it's fascinating to watch Eva's life slowly catch up to where the narrative began.

It starts quite slowly as Eva's backstory begins further back than it really needed to, but it's more than worth it when it gets going. I've always loved perfume and the elegance of the creation process is really brought to life beautifully. We also learn a great deal about scent memories, perfume ingredients and the people who spend their lives chasing after fragrance. There is some glorious imagery in The Perfume Collector, especially when Eva's true history starts to unfold.

She opened her eyes, stared at him, her mind reaching to grasp at a certain feeling... a specific time and place.

'I know that smell! But how do I know it?'

He grinned, delighted. 'Snow.'

'Snow! Of course.' She pressed her wrist to her nose. 'But how can you do that?'

'It's one of my own,' he said proudly. 'It's taken me years to perfect it. You see, nothing is more immediate, more complete than the sense of smell. In an instant, it has the power to transport you. Your olfactory sense connects not to the memory itself, but to the emotion you felt when that memory was made. To recreate a scent memory is one of the most challenging, eloquent pursuits possible. It's poetry, in its most immediate form.'
The history, the story and the scents are all wonderful. It's genuinely a fascinating look at Paris during the Nazi occupation and what cosmetic companies were forced to do to survive. Kathleen Tessaro has also clearly done her research into the perfume business as the level of detail into scent creation is astounding.

However, it does fall a little flat with the characters. Grace herself was very two-dimensional and at times I actually wanted to shake some sense into her. The romance came from nowhere and didn't actually feel strictly necessary to the plot, almost as if it had been added as an afterthought. That said, I would have liked her husband to get his comeuppance a little more as that sub-plot wasn't rounded off all that well. It just kind of... ended.

I think what I'm trying to say is that the story was wonderful and seemed to have been given a lot of energy and effort, but perhaps the more domestic aspects and Grace's character could have benefited from the same.

The Perfume Collector has its faults, but it's stayed with me to the point where I can't pass a perfume counter without thinking of this book, even a fortnight later. It creates an atmosphere of elegance and finery that is simply perfect and I'll definitely be rereading this book in the future.

A huge thank you to Harper Collins for not only sending me a copy of The Perfume Collector to review, but for offering one lucky UK reader the chance to win a copy as well!

Just fill in the RaffleCopter below and I'll e-mail the winner soon. Good luck everybody!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Hmmmm.... well, I really enjoyed 'Perfume', and scent is fascinating, and PAAARIIIIIIS! Consider me duly entered... Also, this may only be my own personal experience (my university boyfriend had the sublety of a horny thirteen year-old), but it's possible that if Lewis thought you were having an affair with a woman called Grace, his first response wouldn't be "OH MY GOD HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?" but "Ummm... is she hot?" :P

    1. You've only met him once and yet you know him so well... I think most men have the subtlety of a horny thirteen year old. I think it's A Thing.

      It's not very similar to 'Perfume,' although I do need to reread that. It's more... if you crossed that with... I can't think of an example. Something very Parisian and elegant and less skin-creepy.

  2. Okay have to second what Ellie said. Dan always jokes about me having affairs with women and tells me to film it at least. :p

    I have entered also! In a bit of a different reading mood at the moment. And my god scent memory.. I keep switching my handwash just for that. My latest handwash reminds me of happy summers. <3

    1. Yup yup. I THINK Lewis is joking when he says it...

      I found an old jumper of mine last week that smells of my flat I used to share with a friend. Makes me sad and happy all at the same time #crazyperson

    2. God I know what you mean! On the one hand I know he'd be miffed if I randomly started sleeping with ladies, but.. it's getting to be the boy who cried lesbian I think.

      Ahh nice. My most recent was the stick of incense I lit the other night. Reminded me of my pagan days, which was a bizarre moment when I was sat in bed reading a YA novel.

  3. I love how lovely and elegant you make this sound - perfume and Paris has got to be as chic as it gets! Plus, that quote is kind of adorable so I'm sold...

    (Also this is a short comment because I'm on my computer at work and am supposed to be typing about a building contract but don't want to! I'm using my Serious Typing Face, though, obviously...)

  4. Oooh, this sounds really interesting. The premise reminds me a little of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, what with the way Grace gets chosen out of the blue by a mysterious stranger. I'll definitely have to give it a look!

  5. I cannot agree enough with Marie...when I read the synopsis, it reminded me a little of "The Thirteenth Tale" - I love when you mystery and intrigue come together with a female protagonist at the helm! Can't wait to read this...


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