Haunting tale of love and heartbreak
The Perfume Collector Author: Kathleen Tessaro
Publisher: Harper, 464 pages,
SET post World War II, The
Perfume Collector is the story of Grace Munroe, a woman who is feeling adrift and lost despite being a member of London’s upper crust. Preferring her literary pursuits to the shopping and parties the women in her set indulge in, Grace is also suspicious that her husband Roger is engaging in an affair but unsure if she should confront him about it.
A letter from France provides her with the perfect excuse to go away for a while. In the letter, Grace learns that she has received an inheritance, but her benefactor is Eva d’Orsey, someone she’s never met, and doesn’t know. Travelling to Paris in search of Eva, Grace discovers a different, bewitching world – the world of perfumes and the surprising love story behind the three distinctive perfumes inspired by Eva, a story that spans decades and places.
The saying “do not judge a book by it’s cover” cannot be used for The Perfume Collector. In fact, the cover is perfect for the story. And the story is a very good one. It’s obvious from the get-go that author Kathleen Tessaro has done her research, and done it well, interweaving the characters’ lives with accurate pieces of history that enhance rather than take away from the story. They add more depth to the story, and the reader is treated to a compelling narrative of love, life, loss, and history.
The two main characters, Grace and Eva, are strong women in a time when strong women were only beginning to emerge in their own right. While Grace is initially slightly boring and one-dimensional, she really grows into her own person in the course of the book, becoming more self-assured and confident as she learns more about her self. Tessaro effectively shows that coming into your own doesn’t have to happen in your teens or 20s, it can happen to you any time.
Eva is by far the best character in the book. Strong and sassy until the very end, she leaves the reader wondering how on earth she could have gone through everything that she did and still be herself. Her life is a roadmap, and it’s pretty amazing to read about a woman in the 1920s flaunt convention the way Eva did.
Tessaro alternates between Grace’s time in 1954 and Eva’s in 1920s up until her death, and while this might be confusing, it’s necessary to bring the both lives together. While this style is not the most reader-friendly, Tessaro has skilfully managed to avoid confusing the reader.
The similarities between both women in terms of their daily struggles are also quite apparent. Although both lived in different time periods, being women in a patriarchal society put them at a disadvantage – Grace, with her cheating husband, and Eva, who starts off working as a maid in a hotel and has to struggle to break out of the traditional female stereotype.
Tessaro also did a fabulous job describing the perfumes and bringing them to life. Her descriptions are done so skilfully that one can almost smell them, and see the process of creating them.
If there’s one thing about The Perfume Collector that wasn’t so great, it was the plot of the story and Eva’s connection to Grace, which were both rather predictable. The pace of the book is rather slow, and readers who want to find out what’s happening right now may not be big fans of the pace.
To me, though, The Perfume Collector is a haunting tale of love and heartbreak, of life and independence. It’s a coming of age story, and one that made me fall in love with it.