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The Perfume Collector
by Kathleen Tessaro
It’s 1955, and Grace Monroe is struggling to fulfill her role as a charming, bubbly London socialite, promoting her ambitious husband through an endless cycle of luncheons and dinner parties. When she suspects her husband of having an affair, the bookish Grace is given an unexpected out: a lawyer from France contacts her, informing her that she must come to Paris immediately and collect her inheritance. Grace doesn’t know a soul in France, but it turns out that a mysterious benefactress has left her as the sole heir to everything she owned. Suddenly independently wealthy, Grace is unsure of what to do next. Rather than make a decision, Grace throws herself into investigating Madame d’Orsey who she was, what she did and why she selected Grace, a complete stranger, to inherit her estate. In the process, Grace discovers the magic of post-WWII Paris as exotic scents and flavors awaken her to all the world has to offer.
The story slides back and forth in time. For Grace, time passes slowly the entire novel takes place in only a few days. But there are frequent flashbacks to the life of Eva d’Orsey, whose mystery unfolds slowly but generously. Eva is by far the more interesting of the two women. From humble origins, she uses her natural talent for numbers and card-counting to attract the notice of an English gadabout who teaches her to gamble. Eva also becomes the muse of a gifted Jewish perfumer; she inspires the olfactory artist to his greatest creations before his untimely death in a WWII concentration camp. Her exciting life sparkles with wonderful descriptions of rich, heady fragrances and beautiful people and poor Grace, the modern-day Cinderella, just can’t compete. She seems so dull, but then again, that’s the point Eva is the fairy godmother offering Grace a chance to become a princess, if only she takes the chance. I love this fairy tale quality that imbues the story with a sense of wonder and hope.
Kathleen Tessaro’s prose is absolutely transporting. Her writing has a vibrancy that reveals an absolute enthusiasm for life. Clearly, she loves Paris, and the delight with which Grace experiences the food, the clothes and the sights of the city make me want to cross the Atlantic and visit the city, too. It’s simply beautiful and fun to read.
I was attracted to this title because of its name – I’m a huge perfume nerd, although I don’t get to indulge myself much after marrying a man rather sensitive to scent. After finishing this book, I was inspired to hop over to Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab and browse the catalog, intending to place an order of some of my favorite scents. I’m trying to resist this urge, but The Perfume Collector has made me crave a new scent. I guess that’s the power of a good book for you!
4.5 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Fashionista Piranha on vacation until June 9th…
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while…
2010: Giveaway #13: Asian Pacific American Book Lot Winner
2009: The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory