Review: The Perfume Collector

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Perfume CollectorThe Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
Published by Harper on May 14, 2013
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 464
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher

An inheritance from a mysterious stranger . . .
An abandoned perfume shop on the Left Bank of Paris . . .
And three exquisite perfumes that hold a memory . . . and a secret

London, 1955: Grace Monroe is a fortunate young woman. Despite her sheltered upbringing in Oxford, her recent marriage has thrust her into the heart of London's most refined and ambitious social circles. However, playing the role of the sophisticated socialite her husband would like her to be doesn't come easily to her—and perhaps never will.

Then one evening a letter arrives from France that will change everything. Grace has received an inheritance. There's only one problem: she has never heard of her benefactor, the mysterious Eva d'Orsey.

So begins a journey that takes Grace to Paris in search of Eva. There, in a long-abandoned perfume shop on the Left Bank, she discovers the seductive world of perfumers and their muses, and a surprising, complex love story. Told by invoking the three distinctive perfumes she inspired, Eva d'Orsey's story weaves through the decades, from 1920s New York to Monte Carlo, Paris, and London.

But these three perfumes hold secrets. And as Eva's past and Grace's future intersect, Grace realizes she must choose between the life she thinks she should live and the person she is truly meant to be.

Illuminating the lives and challenging times of two fascinating women, The Perfume Collector weaves a haunting, imaginative, and beautifully written tale filled with passion and possibility, heartbreak and hope.

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

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.

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.'”

19 responses to “Review: The Perfume Collector”

  1. Faye M. says:

    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

  2. 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 🙂

    • Christina says:

      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.

  3. 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 🙂

    • Christina says:

      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!

  4. Amy says:

    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.

  5. Bonnie R says:

    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!

  6. 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.

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

  8. 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. 🙂

    • Christina says:

      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.

  9. 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.

  10. Renae M. says:

    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.

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