My mom gave me this book to read, knowing I have an interest in all things vintage and anything to do with mysteries and secrets from the past. The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro has all of these things and more.
The story centres on newlywed Grace Munroe in 1955 London, England when she receives a letter saying she is the recipient of a large inheritance from the recently deceased Eva d’Orsey in Paris, France. The only problem is, Grace does not know Eva d’Orsey and has never heard of her before. Grace embarks on a journey to discover who this woman is and why Grace is the sole recipient of her will. Along the way she also discovers what it means to be true to herself versus what is expected of her in society.
As far as stories go, The Perfume Collector is a very well done and well plotted story. The plot line is intricate and nonlinear, jumping back and forth between the present in 1955 with Grace’s story and the past 1920s and 30s where we learn about Eva’s story. Despite being nonlinear, it wasn’t at all confusing or jarring, and eventually both storylines converge beautifully in the end.
The characterization is strong and unique. Each character is well developed as a person through their actions and the things they say. Not only that, The perfume Collector actually made me sympathize with the characters quite a bit – especially Eva as I was more interested at times in what was happening in her storyline than in Grace’s. I don’t want to give anything away, but the book actually has a rather dark premise behind it that I wasn’t expecting, and once I realized the plot was based upon this darker happenstance, it really drew me in emotionally and made me not only care about the characters, but also actually invested in what was going to happen. Which is what a good story does – it makes you root for certain characters, makes you care. You can have a great plot and interesting setting and stellar writing, but if your reader doesn’t care about the characters or what’s happening, then none of it matters. And that doesn’t mean having to make likeable characters – it just means developing the characters into someone a reader could sympathize with in some way.
But that’s a whole other tangent for another post; my point is, The Perfume Collector is a well developed story in every way – except one. The writing was a tad amateurish in parts. There was a lot of head-hopping, which is when your point of view switches between characters without a chapter break or section break. One paragraph we’d be in Grace’s point of view, then two paragraphs later we’d be in the lawyer’s point of view, hearing his thoughts about Grace and Eva’s will. In creative writing, head-hopping is a big no no, unless you can do it really well or if there’s a creative purpose behind it for the way the story’s told. The Perfume Collector’s head-hopping, though, was definitely not purposeful or done well, so it was definitely a mistake on behalf of the writer – but mostly the editor, as head-hopping is something a good editor should certainly catch.
However, the head-hopping didn’t hinder my reading of the story too much, and if you’re not a picky reader, unlike myself, then you probably won’t even notice it or care. The writing overall is simple but flows fairly well, and the descriptions of the time period and the fashion and the old buildings and the many smells of the perfumes – all were vivid and thorough and very descriptive.
I would recommend this book if you like vintage things and/or family’s with a secret past.