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16 November 2013

Kathleen Tessaro: The Perfume Collector

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A charming story of two women in search of who they really are.
Grace Munroe is an upper class wife in 1950's England who is confronting a loveless marriage but with no idea how she can escape to live her life as she wants. She really doesn't fit into the social climbing set that dominates her husband's ambition and is stunned when she finds a clue to his possible infidelity. One day she receives a letter from a lawyer in Paris telling her that she has been left an expensive fashionable apartment in Paris and a financial bequest by a French woman she doesn't know. This starts her journey to Paris where she meets an intriguing solicitor who helps her to follow up the fascinating and "fragrant" background to the unusual bequest.

The story switches to the life of Eva D'Orsey, who, at age of fourteen in the late 1920's, becomes a maid at a exclusive hotel in New York.  There she meets some unusual people; Madame Zed, a French perfumier and her genius apprentice Andre Valmont; Miss Waverley, a high-class courtesan; and Charles Lambert, an English aristocrat and WWI hero with a penchant for gambling and alcohol. Lambert recognises that Eva's eidetic memory could help him with his gambling ambitions.

Each of these people affect the course of Eva's future life. The story moves from the past to the 1950's with a connecting theme of personalised perfumes. While a lot of the story is a little predictable, the atmospheric descriptions of the times and both Eva's and Grace's search for who they really are makes the book enjoyable. Eva's last words in the book are "all that matters now is what Grace Munroe decides to do next".

This was a fragrant interlude between my daily dose of thrillers (a sorbet between courses or a 'step outside the wheelhouse').  I really enjoyed the break with this tale of two strong and potentially independent women and the discovery of their connections across the years.

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