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Review: The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

Submitted by on June 10, 2013 – 2:23 pm5 Comments

Author: Kathleen Tessaro
Title: The Perfume Collector
Release: May 2013
Reviewer: Mona Leigh
Source: Publisher/NetGalley

Purchase: | Book Depository

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.

This is probably one of the most difficult reviews I’ve had to write. Why? Because the story encompasses so much distance and time and such varying personalities that it’s more like watching an epic movie than reading a book.

Grace Monroe is an educated woman in the mid-1950s whose husband, Roger, treats her like a dumb trophy wife. What she really wants to do is work and actually accomplish something with her life. I could almost visualize Roger patting her on the head like a dog when she did his bidding.

About the time Grace accidentally discovers Roger’s having an affair, she receives a letter informing her she’s inherited property in Paris. She uses the inheritance as a way to escape for a while and have time to think. But there a slight problem: Grace doesn’t know her benefactor, therefore, she thinks it’s a mistake and refuses to accept it.

Tissot, the Paris attorney in charge of settling the estate of Eva d’Orsey finds it curious that Grace won’t simply accept the money and leave, so he sets out to help her discover whatever she can about Eva and why the money was left to her.

Eva’s tough life is told in flashbacks, and right away, it’s easy to guess that Grace is really Eva’s daughter. But the depth of Eva’s love and her determination to ensure that Grace has the financial security to be independent is a revelation.

Actually, Grace and Eva are remarkably alike. Both have identic memories as well as the ability to identify scents well enough to create perfumes. As Grace learns about Eva, she’s rather dismissive at first, but the more she discovers, the more she respects the hard choices Eva made for her sake.

Throughout Grace’s journey of self-discovery, Tissot is there for her, patient and accommodating. She can’t help but compare him to Roger, and in every way, poor Roger comes up lacking. As Grace blossoms and her feelings for Tissot deepen, I kept my fingers crossed that she would dump Roger and allow herself to find true love. That particular storyline weaves through to the very end, and I had to squeal with satisfaction at the outcome.

The part of the story where Eva was drugged and raped at fourteen years old was told as matter-of-factly as possible. It was a tough subject, but it was addressed without sensationalism, which gave it a more authentic feeling. My heart broke for her, but I also rejoiced every time she overcame another hurdle.

While this isn’t a light, fluffy read, it is one that you’ll remember for a very long time, and you won’t walk away unaffected.

Mona Leigh

Mona's first grade teacher, Mrs. Stanford, gifted her with the love of reading. For that, she'll always live in her heart. But reading took over Mona's life, eclipsing everything but playing sports, and has continued to be a huge part of her life. Although she has always written poetry and stories for her self, last year she decided to try her hand at writing fiction. She is currently editing her first urban fantasy and hopes to have it ready for the agent by summer's end. Besides reading, Mona loves speed in the form of fast cars. The faster, the better! In her next life, she plans to drive race cars (or whatever happens to be their replacement in the future) all while reading and writing. She has also taken up rune reading, and find it to be disturbingly accurate and exciting.
Doll Mona Leigh


  • Believer says:

    Love the symbolism! How did she incorporate the different perfumes?

    Reply to this comment »
  • Norma Santana says:

    Sounds interesting

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  • Mona Leigh says:

    Eva was muse to a perfume creator and she also created one of the most popular scents ever made, but the recipe vanished during the war. The inspiration for that scent ends up being a tear jerker when it’s revealed. Oddly, Grace remembers some of the items used to create it.

    I can’t tell you any more than that without ruining the book for you. :)

    Reply to this comment »
  • Eowyn says:

    Mona, this sounds really interesting! Thanks for the review.

    Reply to this comment »
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