The Perfume Collector
by Kathleen Tessaro
Published by Harper
Genre: women’s fiction
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4.5 / 5
Grace Monroe has a stable, if unexciting and unfulfilling, life. It’s post WWII London, and Grace and her husband are trying to determine the course of their marriage now that Grace has been pronounced unable to bear a child. She knows her husband is disappointed, but to what degree? What does this mean for them?
Into this uncertainty arrives a letter from Paris. Grace has an inheritance waiting for her, but she knows nothing of the woman who bequeathed it to her. To receive it, she must travel to Paris, alone, and meet with the solicitor. Grace greedily accepts the challenge, and off she goes.
Alternating with Grace’s story is that of Eva D’Orsey, the woman who leaves her estate for Grace. Eva came to the United States as a young teen, at which she was discovered by a perfumer and her assistant. Eva’s travels take her to England and France, where she leads a dynamic, eventful life. But why does she leave everything to Grace?
Tessaro peppers her story with clues, and astute readers will solve the mystery fairly quickly. The good news is that even with the questions answered, you still want to keep reading. You want to know more about Eva, about how she ended up where she did. Why did she choose those particular paths? You also want to know more about Grace. What will come of her marriage? Will she find Paris as healing a location as Eva did?
This is a lovely, atmospheric novel populated by intriguing characters and a good, solid story. You feel a kinship with Grace right from the start, and you side with her against those trying to derail her. If Eva is not as lovable, then so be it. Grace is the heart of the novel.
The fact that Eva is involved in perfumery is interesting itself, operating as a sort of metaphor for the women’s paths of self-discovery. Your senses must be acutely attuned in order to be successful in that line of work. You must be able to discern different nuances and flavors, different contributors and detractors. Eva understands what comprises an attractive scent, something Grace must learn for herself.
The men in the book are not as interesting as the women, but they serve their purposes well. Grace’s husband is just a loathsome man, and we anxiously wish her to bid him good riddance. The Parisian solicitor, though, much like some of the unexpected oils in Eva’s perfumes, enhances Grace’s world, making it more vivid and more alluring. But does Grace see that, or does she more highly value marital commitment?
Tessaro’s story is told evocatively and lovingly. This is a delightful novel with an enchanting story and lovely characters.