by Margot Berwin
Evangeline’s grandmother, a creator of scent, gave her something very special: a magical perfume all her own. The moment she applies the scent to her body, it becomes a part of her – it’s in her breath, her skin, her sweat. This fragrance is irresistible to both man and beast. People are drawn to Eva wherever she goes. They follow her on the street and ask to touch her skin and smell her hair, while dogs chase her in parks and cats yowl outside her window. The powerful fragrance seduces Eva’s crush, a medical student, and she moves with him to New Orleans. There, she meets an artist – the one man who seems immune to the charms of her perfume. Eva becomes torn between the good, decent man she lives with and this wild, impetuous painter who may be the only man who can love her for herself.
Eva narrates the story in a dreamy, disconnected way. This works well when she’s describing the mythical allure of New Orleans or elusive fragrance notes. The atmosphere in this novel is rich and heady, and the descriptions can be quite lovely. But when it comes to the characters, the narrative falls flat. Even though she’s telling the story, Eva remains remote and underdeveloped, and her two love interests suffer from this even more.
In the opening pages, Eva warns the reader that she will fall in love with a good man and one who is ‘pure evil’. The trouble is that, by the end of the book, I wasn’t convinced that either man fit those roles. The first man, Gabriel, is a medical student who falls in love with Eva thanks to the power of the perfume. By being with Eva, he cheats on his girlfriend Rayanne – so I certainly wouldn’t call him a ‘good’ man. After he gets that mess squared away and moves back to New Orleans, where he goes to school, he spends most of his time studying and leaves Eva to her own devices, a stranger in a new city. He’s not a terrible guy, certainly – he’s in med school, and he warned Eva how it would be – but he’s hardly an angelic paragon of virtue. Likewise, the artist Michael never achieved “pure evil”. Sure, he was creepy and weird – his obsession with Eva’s body and his collection of nail clippings and shaved hair makes my skin crawl. Yes, he’s selfish, seducing his models and discarding them when he finishes their portraits. But he is merely the poorer of two bad choices, not the devil incarnate.
The story unfolds slowly, taking its time to draw you into the world of Eva’s grandmother, the mysterious creator of Eva’s scent, before pulling the reader deeper into the magical city of New Orleans. But suddenly, the story begins to rush along as if it can’t wait to be over, and the climax and denouement – which would have and should have taken at least another hundred pages - gets crammed into less than half that space. It was utterly unsatisfying, and I’m not sure what happened.
Although the book has some serious flaws, I did enjoy reading it. I just loved the descriptions of New Orleans, reminiscent of that venerable gothic grandeur found in Anne Rice’s novels. The ideas in the story are interesting and creative; I just wish the author had spent a little more time developing the characters to match the beauty of their surroundings.
3 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
2011: Apologize, Apologize! By Elizabeth Kelly
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
2009: When the Soul Mends by Cindy Woodsmall