Tuesday, September 30, 2014
The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
Published May 2013 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: I bought this one in paperback after I couldn't get to the copy I bought for my Nook when it died. Yeah, that's annoying!
London, 1955: Grace Monroe is a fortunate young woman. Despite her sheltered upbringing in Oxford, her recent marriage has thrust her into the heart of London's most refined and ambitious social circles. However, playing the role of the sophisticated socialite her husband would like her to be doesn't come easily to her—and perhaps never will.
Then one evening a letter arrives from France that will change everything. Grace has received an inheritance from a mysterious benefactor, Eva d'Orsey, whom she's never met.
So begins a search that takes Grace to a long-abandoned perfume shop on Paris's Left Bank, where she discovers the seductive world of perfumers and their muses, and a surprising love story. Told by invoking the three distinctive perfumes she inspired, Eva d'Orsey's story weaves through the decades, from 1920s New York to Monte Carlo, Paris, and London.
But these three perfumes hold secrets. And as Eva's past and Grace's future intersect, Grace must choose between the life she thinks she should live and the person she is truly meant to be.
This book was suggested by one of my book club members. I pick most of the books but since she's someone I can count on to read the book and come ready to discuss it, I knew it was worth going with despite a cover that made me wonder if it might not be a little too light.
It was not. The Perfume Collector has surprising depth. Tessaro weaves some very heavy topics into her story: the plight of orphaned children, alcoholism, gambling, infertility, infidelity and rape. Then she layers in guilt, lies, obsession, oppression, the lack of options for women in the mid-twentieth century, and Nazis. You didn't see any of that coming when you saw that cover did you?
There's a hook I saw coming well before the big reveal (and I'm certain I'm not alone in this), but Tessaro still managed to make it poignant. By that time, readers are so attached to Grace that you can't help but feel her pain. Eva? Well, now, she's a bit harder to become attached to. Eva is forced to grow up fast and lives her life in a way that hardens her. Still, I couldn't help but understand and feel that she did what she had to do even before I knew why.
Curiously, the perfume parts of the story often got to be a little much for me and I found myself skimming over them. But the hint of romance Tessaro introduced was never allowed to overshadow the real story and I appreciated that; in fact, it was used as a point of emphasis.
Sadly, I was sick the day that the Omaha Bookworms met to discuss The Perfume Collector. I would loved to have been able to talk about this one with my girls!