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A Reader of Fictions: Review: The Perfume Collector

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review: The Perfume Collector

The Perfume Collector

Author: Kathleen Tessaro
Pages: 464
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
Source: Publisher for review

Description from Goodreads:
London, 1955: Grace Monroe is a young newlywed, eager to make a success of her marriage. However, with her intellectual curiosity and her unladylike talent for advanced mathematics, she finds the routine of elegant luncheons and exclusive parties among post-war London’ s social set more tiresome than exciting.

When Grace receives an unexpected inheritance from a woman she’s never met, she finds herself suddenly in Paris, embarking upon a journey to discover not only the identity of her mysterious benefactor but also the hidden secrets of her own past.

In a story that takes us from New York in the 1920s to mid-century Monte Carlo, Paris and London, Grace discovers a world filled with the evocative, intoxicating power of perfume; an obsessive, desperate love between muse and artist; and a trail of dark memories that may mean she isn’ t the person she thinks she is at all.


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

Review:
When offered a review copy of The Perfume Collector, I did the same thing I always do first: checked out the Goodreads page to see how the early reviews had fallen. Based on the overwhelmingly positive response, I accepted, despite my crowded review schedule. I'm quite glad I did, as Tessaro's novel is a marvelous read, full of beautiful language and eccentric characters. Set in the post-WWII, Kathleen Tessaro's novel The Perfume Collector is a contemplative tale of one woman's journey to make amends and another woman's journey to find herself.

Grace Munroe lives a rather dull life in the upper crust. She doesn't much care about shopping or parties, preferring intellectual pursuits, and feels a bit lost. Her unease only increases with the suspicion that her husband, Roger, has been conducting an affair. Unsure how to react, she stalls for time, traveling to France to follow up on a mysterious and well-timed missive, informing her of her inheritance from one Eva d'Orsey. What's puzzling is that this Eva is completely unknown to Grace.

The overall plot is, to my mind, entirely predictable. The connection between Grace and Eva is, I think, obvious. There was no shocking reveal or mind-blowing twist. However, I do not see that as a bad thing. Even though the destination is clear, The Perfume Collector is much more about Grace's own mental journey, coming into her own, coming of age, even if she is over thirty, discovering independence for the first time in her life.

Tessaro alternates between Grace's timeline in 1954 and Eva's timeline from the 1920s until her death, slowly weaving them together until all is known. This narrative device is frequently used in historical fiction, but often one of the timelines is much more interesting the other, leaving the reader bored and impatient during the other. Thankfully, in The Perfume Collector, I found both Eva and Grace fascinating in entirely different ways. Though the pace is rather slow, it never flagged, and I was fully engaged throughout.

The characters are well-drawn and all bursting with personality. Grace really does open up in front of the reader's eyes, letting more and more of her true self shine through. I also loved Grace's interactions with her best friend, Mallory, and that, through everything, Mallory was there for her. I rather expected Mallory's character to turn out to be shallow and unreliable, because she's much more into the social scene than Grace, and fiction does that sort of thing, but, no, their friendship is real and delightful. The lawyer, Tissot, too, is a friendly, joking fellow, and probably my personal favorite.

In Eva's sections, the people are brasher, darker, and less likable, but also more compelling. As a young girl, Eva works at a high class hotel in New York City, cleaning up after illustrious and daring personages. She becomes involved with some of these people, and sets her life on a dangerous, exciting course. Grace may live a life of quiet desperation, but Eva's desperation is anything but calm and reserved.

Kathleen Tessaro's The Perfume Collector is a beautiful historical novel about one woman's awakening. Readers who appreciate historical fiction with a focus on women will want to give this one a look.

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Quote: "'I want to go to a café and sit with you. I want you to order something I've never eaten before and tease me about it. And I want to walk, anywhere, nowhere in particular, and for us to disagree.'"

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19 Comments:

Blogger Faye M. said...

Awesome review, Christina! I may give this one a short and recommend it to my co-blogger who's into historical fiction. I'm not really fond of it, but I could start soon, and this sounds like a decent start. =D

Faye @ The Social Potato

May 15, 2013 at 9:48 AM  
Blogger Charlotte @ Gypsy Reviews said...

The last line of your review was definitely the deal breaker for me, always good to see a book that has a strong focus on women and particularly in historical fiction. Fantastic review Christina :)

May 15, 2013 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger Becky LeJeune said...

Yes! I loved this book. I discovered Tessaro with her last release, THE DEBUTANTE, and had been really looking forward to this new one (it's been over 2 years!). In the meantime, I've been buying up her backlist to save for a rainy day :)

May 15, 2013 at 10:03 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

This sounds interesting. The characters really seem fantastic and like they are done very well. I don't read a lot of historical, but I do like them sometimes. I'm glad that you really enjoyed this one.

May 15, 2013 at 10:32 AM  
Blogger Bonnie R said...

Definitely going to have to check this one out, I've somehow convinced myself that I will love this. I've heard a lot about Tessaro's other books but haven't picked any of them up. Glad to hear you enjoyed this one, great review!

May 15, 2013 at 11:57 AM  
Blogger Ashley @ The Bibliophile's Corner said...

Brilliant review! I really want to read this one now. I need a good historical fiction book to read.

And something about this cover is just stunning.

May 15, 2013 at 1:39 PM  
Blogger kimbacaffeinate said...

Lovely review and I think I would enjoy this one despite the predictability. The language and historical images you described have piqued my interest.

May 15, 2013 at 11:33 PM  
Blogger Dragana Mitrovic said...

As soon as I read Monte Carlo, Paris in summary I was interested and after your lovely review I am definitely adding this to my tbr.
I love reading about position of woman in other historical eras, it makes me appreciate my freedom today even more. And I like how the characters sound and Grace's and Mallory's friendship. I'm a little bit bored of authors who write female friends where the social and flirty friend turns out to be shallow or in it for some nefarious goal. I like reading about true friendship for a change. :)

May 16, 2013 at 3:02 AM  
Blogger April (BooksandWine) said...

I do like reading books for the journey that they take you on, even when I know the destination. So, The Perfume Collector does sound pretty good, but right now I am totally in need of brainless books and will probably be reading brainless books until September ha ha.

May 17, 2013 at 6:53 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh, cool. I love historical, but I know everyone doesn't go for it. This was definitely a good read!

May 17, 2013 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yes, I must admit a fondness for historical that places women in the foreground. Especially because there tends to be more of a social/emotional focus instead of endless battles or politics.

May 17, 2013 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh wow, I looked at her other books but the reviews didn't look great so I wasn't sure which to check out. I added THE DEBUTANTE to my to-read list. Thanks for the recc!

May 17, 2013 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Thanks! The characters were really entertaining and unique, which was very fun.

May 17, 2013 at 11:09 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I could definitely see you enjoying this one, as I know you appreciate a good historical. :)

May 17, 2013 at 11:20 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

The cover is a bit strange, but very compelling, I agree!

May 17, 2013 at 12:54 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

It's very pretty. I suspect you would enjoy, Kimba!

May 17, 2013 at 1:01 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I'm very bored of that trope too, and kept expecting Mallory to stab her in the back, haha. She doesn't though. Her advice isn't always perfect and she certainly isn't, but Mallory really does love Grace, which is awesome.

May 17, 2013 at 1:25 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Hahahaha, dude, I totally feel you. Sometimes the fluffy ones are super necessary.

May 17, 2013 at 1:30 PM  
Blogger Renae M. said...

Welp, I can probably guess the entire plot just by reading the blurb/review, but as you said, being surprised probably isn't the point here. And, as long as the characters are well-drawn (it sounds like they are), there's no reason this couldn't be a good book. I'll have to consider this, I think, even though historical fiction and I are on the outs right now after...5(?) DNFs in a row. Damn pickle penises.

May 18, 2013 at 12:04 PM  

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