The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

Title: The Perfume Collector
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.

Comments

  1. Yes yes yes :D I adored this book a lot more than I thought I would. I'm so glad you liked it too!

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    1. Me too -- I was apprehensive but my worries were for naught.

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  2. I was thinking about making this one of my suggestions for book club next year, and after your review I think it sounds perfect for our group. (Also, it feeds right into my own perfume obsession!) Thanks for this review!

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    1. Oh, do, I think it'd be a great group read. I love perfumes as well, and am a passionate fan of small online perfume oil e-tailers.

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  3. I tried to get an ARC of this one. It sounded like a really good book. Great Review! Do you have suggestions for Edelweiss profile that helps with access? Just curious.

    Cynthia
    The Things You Can Read
    http://thethingsyoucanread.blogspot.com/

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    Replies
    1. Cynthia, do you include your blog stats in your standard profile request? When I included that, I started getting approved, but it also helped that when offered review copies for things, I accepted Edelweiss -- and once I did that, I get almost anything I request.

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  4. This sounds wonderful! I love books that weave two stories together like that.

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  5. Thank you for the review. The cover certainly helps.

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  6. Oh, this sounds like it ticks lots of boxes for me, and love the cover.

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  7. I enjoyed this book as well and have as of late become more interested in perfumes. I love the cover too.

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  8. You've made me curious about this one...and I am drawn to the cover.

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  9. I almost got this the other day as I'm in a perfume phase, as it were, but I've not been sold on the story. That said you've definitely sold me on the writing today and I do like the sound of a non-mystery mystery.

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  10. I agree completely with your description of the author's writing style - beautiful, dramatic, and suggestive. I really liked this book and am glad you enjoyed it too :)

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  11. This is one I am kicking myself for not grabbing off edelweiss when it was on there. You and Christina had such a good experience, I'm envious.

    I am a fan of the two women separated by time but with interlinking plotlines. The comparison to Sarah Jio sounds spot on, and though I like her work less than, say, Kate Morton's, this sounds like a strong book.

    Also, Audra, I love your turns of phrase. This : "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." is so good! And also makes me want to read this even more.

    Lovely review. As usual. :D

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  12. This book totally intrigues me, and like you, I love the cover! That's a good place to start, then add in Paris, mysterious qualities, heroine and inheritance....sold! I'll see if our (stupid) library has it. Cross your fingers for me. :)

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  13. I liked this one a lot too! Such a great sense of time and place, and I loved Eva's story.

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