Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Perfume Collector

Title:  The Perfume Collector
Author:  Kathleen Tessaro
Publication Information:  Harper. 2013. 446 pages.
ISBN:  0062257838 / 978-0062257833

Book Source:  I read this book based on the cover and description.

Opening Sentence:  "Eva D'Orsey sat at the kitchen table, listening to the ticking clock, a copy of Le Figaro in front of her."

Favorite Quote:  "To me, chance isn't isn't random. The universe is bound by unseen threads. We have only to untangle them a little to see a pattern unfold."

I love perfume, and I love historical fiction. This book combines a little bit of both in a story that spans two generations. Grace Munro is living her life in England, with its rich social life and her sometimes overbearing husband. She receives news that a mysterious benefactor in France has left her an inheritance. The inheritance comes from someone Grace does not ever remember meeting or even hearing of. They seemingly have no connection at all. She leaves London behind and takes herself to Paris to investigate.

The journey to Paris becomes a journey to the past. She learns who her benefactor is but comes no closer to learning why Eva D'Orsey left her the legacy. Grace digs deeper, trying to discover why.

The book switches perspectives and takes the reader to the past. We meet Eva D'Orsey and begin to learn her story. She was a hotel chamber maid. Circumstances take her far beyond her beginnings. The book gradually reveals Eva's life, but the mystery continues. What is connection between the two?

The book circles through the past and present, telling both Eva and Grace's story until the stories eventually meet and the connection between the two is revealed. Eva's story is that of a strong young woman, who suffers setbacks and betrayals but never stops striving. She becomes the muse for one of Paris's most influential perfumers. Though unrecognized, she becomes a skilled perfumer herself. Eva's story is also one of sacrifice and what a person will do for someone they love. Finally, Eva's story is the lush story of Paris in the 1920s and the sensual appeal of perfumes.

Grace's story is of a wealthy, insulated childhood and of living life according to expectations. Her trip to Paris is a journey of self and of discovery of who she is beyond those expectations. The beautiful Paris setting again highlight beauty and luxury.

"Perfume should tell a story - the story of who you are, who you might be, perhaps even of who you fear becoming ... all of these things are possible ... it conveys feelings and states of being that have no name, no language. Its very ambiguity makes it truer than words, it can't be manipulated or misunderstood." Eva's story is of who she was, what she becomes and the fears she survives. Grace's story becomes the one of possibility as the legacy she receives is so much more than the inheritance she thought.

The dots of this story are not hard to connect; it's easily guessed where the story ends. However, the descriptions in the book - about Paris, about World War II, about the perfume industry - are rich and captivating. More than the characters or the plot, it is these descriptions that bring the book to life, giving it richness and depth. As the book itself says, "Life is after all, a sensual experience. Our senses have the power to truly transport us but also to ground us. Make us human." The book successfully sets out to appeal to the senses and tell a story through the images.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.


  1. I read this book last year and loved it.

    1. The descriptions are my favorite part. The visual descriptions of the time and place, and the sensory descriptions of the perfumes are such a big part of it. It is a sensory experience through words.