Haunt­ing tale of love and heart­break

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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.

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