The Perfume Collector is a novel by Kathleen Tessaro longlisted for the Women’s Prize in 2013. It is Tessaro’s fifth work and I must admit I knew nothing about her or her books until I read this review by Naomi. So, I asked the publisher for a review copy and they kindly sent me a beautiful paperback edition.
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. There’s only one problem: she has never heard of her benefactor, the mysterious Eva d’Orsey.
When I first read Naomi’s review I wrote: “I’d put this one as one of my cozy readings, one of those lovely ones that gets you through tough weeks”. And it was true. The Perfume Collector is a cozy reading that despite its 450 pages can be read in a few days. The main characters Grace Munroe and Eva D’Orsey are mysterious women and far more complex than they appear to be, so the narration of their inner life becomes central to them. Also, they are often underrated by a society that would like them to get married, have children and just take care of their homes and families, but neither of them are like that. They are disruptive characters yet, Tessaro adheres them to certain clichés linked to the self-discovery of one’s own independence. For example, their sexuality becomes central to their development and their self-definition as independent women and although I do see the importance of this step during the early and mid 20th century, it ihas been widely explored for 21st century readers.
Regarding the mystery, for there is a mystery haunting the novel, I loved it and it reminded me of Kate Morton’s family centered novels, but I must admit I made the necessary connections on page 150 and since then it was much more a matter of how it happened rather than what happened. The romantic subplots were also pretty clear from the beginning and quite predictable, but since I am not one for this kind of stories, I felt it merely interrupted the main plot rather than enrich it.
But, you know what? I loved The Perfume Collector because it provided me with a break from my own life and everyday duties and just let me space to breath and relax. It is a very sensual novel full of descriptions of perfumes and all kind of smells and I had just happened to run out of perfume while I was reading it! It was not easy to discover so many interesting things about perfumes when one has not even a drop of hers to enjoy. Also, the book pictures a great friendship between two women: Grace and Mallory and how they patiently wait for each other and try to make each other happy. It is refreshing to see two women who really get along in a book with a mainly female target audience rather than two women fighting and betraying each other.
So I would recommend The Perfume Collector to anyone who has enjoyed Kate Morton’s type of books before and are looking for their next cozy reading. Also, be prepared to re-evaluate your perfume, your hairdressing and your clothes. Great designers and luxurious elements haunt the novel and if you already like them – like I do – this will inevitable lead to some pampering and to plan your perfect shopping spree!