27 May 2013

Book Review: The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

"One letter will turn newly-married Grace Munroe's life upside down:

'Our firm is handling the estate of the deceased Mrs Eva D'Orsey and it is our duty to inform you that you are named as the chief beneficiary in her will. We request your presence at our offices at your earliest convenience, so that we may go through the details of your inheritance.'

There is only one problem. Grace has never heard of Eva D'Orsey. So begins a journey which leads Grace through the streets of Paris and into the seductive world of perfumers and their muses. An abandoned perfume shop on the Left Bank will lead her to unravel the heartbreaking story of her mysterious benefactor, an extraordinary woman who bewitched high society in 1920s New York and Paris."

Rating: 5/5

You can buy The Perfume Collector as a paperback or an eBook now.

I haven't read a Kathleen Tessaro novel for a few years now, so was really pleased to receive a review copy of her new book, The Perfume Collector. This is Kathleen's first book in the UK for a few years, and I have to say I was really intrigued by both the gorgeous and striking cover, and the story line. To be honest, I do not usually go for historical type fiction books, as I prefer things set in the modern day but there was something about this book which was really drawing me in and I just wanted to read it and find out more. After reading just a few chapters, I was hooked and totally drawn into the world of Eva and Grace. Tessaro's book was an utter joy to read, and here's why I think you should read it.

This book is set in two different periods. Firstly, there is the 1950's with Grace. She has been left a large estate by a Ms Eva D'Orsey, but Grace has no knowledge at all of knowing Eva. The estate is in France, so Grace leaves her home and her husband behind and flies across the water to see exactly what she has been left, and to try and work out who Eva is. In between this story, we find out more about the mysterious Eva D'Orsey, growing up in New York in the 1920's. Eva works as a chambermaid in a rather posh hotel, and has her eyes opened to the world in a number of ways when she is working there. But what exactly is Eva hiding behind that happy facade, and what is her link to the young British girl Grace?

We first find out the life of young Grace, a woman growing up in a loveless marriage, and struggling to find a purpose in her life. She doesn't want to just be a society wife, and dreams of having a job that will fulfill her but knows that her husband and friends look down on this idea. I really found Grace to  be an intriguing character - she has no parents left, no real close friends and not a good relationship with her husband too. She's very much a loner, and I liked how she jumped at the chance to fly away from her life to France to find out more about the estate she has been left in Eva's will. Tessaro writes 1950's Britain and France so well, everything from Grace's outfits to the customs and way of life at that time are so well written, you can easily immerse yourself in it, and I found it very refreshing to read about a time gone by, and a much simpler way of life without Twitter or Facebook being referenced every 5 minutes!

Eva D'Orsey on the other hand was quite an interesting one to read about. We meet her as a young and very naive teenager when she starts work at a posh hotel in New York, and see how she is transformed as her eyes are opened to the real world and the people who frequent the hotel. We learn of Eva's talents, and how she can be manipulated thanks to these, but also how she can manipulate others too as she becomes more self-aware. I have to say I found her story quite sad in a way, she's very lonely and latches onto those she feels she can benefit from, rather than anyone she seems to love. Eva and Grace are quite alike in these aspects, and I loved how Tessaro switched from one story to the next quite easily. It wasn't at all hard to keep up with their stories, and as soon as one began I was completely immersed in that until again it switched over to the other tale - both were as good as the other, and I was enjoying every single page.

The perfumery part of the book was so intriguing, and unlike anything else I have read on the subject  before. We meet two important characters in the book who are very knowledgeable about perfume, and through them I found out so much about scent, and how scents can be created to be like anything you wish for them to be. Tessaro writes this in such a captivating way you can see why Eva becomes immersed in this world too, and it was fascinating to see how Grace uses an old abandoned perfumery in Paris to try and piece together some of Eva's past she craves to know about, and how that links in to the rest of the book. The way Tessaro writes Paris, too, is amazing; she is so evocative in her language and imagery that you can really believe you are walking the Parisian streets with Grace, and earlier on in the book the sumptuous New York hotel just comes alive on the pages with Tessaro's descriptive writing, and viewing it through the quite childish and in-awe eyes of Eva.

This book is a superbly crafted piece of literature, and I can honestly say it is one of the best books I have read so far this year. What's even better is that it is totally different to the normal sort of books I have read, and has perhaps opened my eye to another genre of books I would otherwise perhaps overlook. It has an intriguing story that drew me in right from the first page, and I loved both Eva and Grace as characters, they were fantastic to read about and although the mystery element in the book became fairly obvious to me after a while, I was simply enchanted by the book and couldn't wait to find out how these characters were going to puzzle things out and what was going to happen next for them. It jumps through the years, the places, the people with ease, and you not only care about the journeys that Eva and Grace go on, but you are swept into this beguiling world of perfume and its creation too. A beautifully written and absorbing read that I cannot recommend highly enough. Simply brilliant.

1 comment:

  1. I have just finished reading this book and your review is spot on. I love this site. Thanks, Ingrid.