The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
Author: Kathleen Tessaro
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1950s / 1920s / Dual Storyline / Perfume / New York City / Paris / Family Secrets)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper (5/14/2013)
Source: The publisher / Edelweiss
Rating: Liked a very good deal, if not loved.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: A young British woman in the 1950s finds herself the sole heir of a massive fortune belonging to a woman she's never met and she goes to Paris where she learns a shocking truth.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: Oh, I do -- it could practically be a still from my mental movie. It's obviously our '50s heroine as she paces around the empty Parisian apartment...
I'm reminded of...: Sarah Jio, Sidney Sheldon
First line: Eva D'Orsey sat at the kitchen table, listening to the ticking clock, a copy of Le Figaro in front of her.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, especially if you like heroines who are bequeathed mysterious inheritances.
Why did I get this book?: It was the She Reads Book Club August selection.
Review: This bittersweet historical novel is the kind of engrossing, dramatic read I love for summer. Alternating between two women in two different decades, the story snaps along with dynamic characters, a non-mystery mystery (really, it's less a mystery and more a winding path to the answer) and an intriguing mix of soap opera-y plot and poetic ruminations on memory, scent, and relationships.
In the 1950s, young wife Grace Munroe is rocked by two unexpected shocks, one of which is that she's the sole heir to a small fortune belonging to a French woman she's never met, Eva D'Orsey. Traveling to Paris, she's surprised by what she learns, not just about Eva, but also about herself. The novel switches between her story and that of Eva's, beginning in the 1920s when she's a young girl working as a maid at chic hotel in New York City through her adult life.
The perfume collector in the title refers to one of Eva's companions, a gifted but misanthropic perfumer who is obsessed with capturing and evoking particular memories with his perfumes. The slippery nature of memories is a theme running through the book, as both Grace and Eva long to remember things either forgotten or long since faded.
Tessaro's writing style is lovely: quick but evocative, and I raced through this book but didn't feel pushed along. The various themes, both heavy and light, tie together nicely with the plot. There's a sexy undertone to the story as well, although there are no sexytimes; like the perfumes the characters design, Tessaro's story hints and suggests at something tawdry but doesn't evoke it outright, so the prudish and polite need not fear reading this one. But it's dramatic enough to satisfy, either as a summer read or a book when one is craving a little bit of mood and drama.