It was with quite a bit of reluctance that I picked up The Perfume Collector. I read the description and sighed deeply. Yet another dual narrative?
If it had been closer to Halloween, I would have dressed up like the Statue of Liberty, torch and all, shouting my own version of the Emma Lazarus poem:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your dull dual narrators yearning to break free…”
I wanted something different. I wanted to read a story in which the narrator was the setting of the story. I wanted a coming-of-age tale in which the protagonist was unreliable. I wanted suspense. I wanted thrills and chills. I wanted the first person plural. I wanted flash fiction, meta fiction, flashback, flash forward. Anything, anything other than a dual narrative. It just seems as if we are inundated with those these days.
However, there was one aspect of The Perfume Collector that I found unable to resist: perfume. Ever since I was quite young, I have collected perfume bottles and scents. I will admit that it was the perfume aspect of the novel that persuaded me to read the book. And when I did, the experience was so intoxicating and unforgettable.
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.
Tessaro, the author of Elegance, creates two strong yet very distinctive women who transported me to places I had never been, to an era in which I was not a part. She has an innate ability to immerse her readers completely in the time period in which she writes. And aren’t those the best novels?
It wasn’t long before my heart skipped a beat and my senses heightened. My whole body became alert. Was the dual narrative what I needed? Even when I had turned my back on this technique?
I sped through the story, utterly riveted to Tessaro’s pages, heady with feeling, intoxicated by the author’s prose, setting, characterization, and plot.
So I pose these questions to you:
Which technique and style do you prefer?
What do you think there is just too much of?
What would you like to see more of?