THE PERFUME COLLECTOR Kathleen Tessaro
Twenty years ago, I became allergic to my own perfume. I have missed wearing scent ever since. Missed shopping for perfume. I love walking into Macy's or Nordstrom and perusing the perfume counters: fingering the bottles, smelling the air. Hence, the title of this book captured me. More than a story about a product, The Perfume Collector renders everything from the philosophy of scent to the sketching out a formula to the gathering of ingredients—some of which are startling: wool and tree bark?—to who should wear what to who should sell which scent to whom, and to whom the genealogy of a scent should belong! Wow! It is a fascinating world, and Kathleen Tessaro paints it fully.
As she does the characters who inhabit each of her plotlines. Yes, there are parallel stories, one that begins in London in 1955 when shy, insecure, and not-so-happily married Grace Munroe inherits a small fortune from someone she has never heard of, and the other set in New York City in 1927 at The Warwick Hotel, inhabited by Ziegfeld Follies girls, artists, and Madame Zed, an exotic and mysterious woman with strong ties to the art of perfume.
The lives of the main characters in each story are fully explored by Ms. Tessaro and the mysteries of the story lie deep in the secrets of the characters. We go back and forth in time, which is clearly stated at the top of each chapter, and one story is as compelling as the other. This is rare. But, I must say, how the author weaves them together is subtle, smooth, and masterful. Once I started, it was hard to put it down. That is a great book. I longed to know how it would turn out, and was so sorry when it was over.
I have to say that I am not a fan of descriptions that go on longer than three or four lines, but Kathleen Tessaro creates such an interesting world in each of her locations, which go on to include Paris 1955 & 1942 during the Nazi Occupation, Monte Carlo in 1928, and Oxford, England in the early 1930s that the descriptions—whatever their length—mesmerize. As do the detailed and achingly sensual portrayals of several one-of-a-kind perfumes.
I loved this book! It has everything I want in a great story: adventure, complex time periods, vibrant locales, compelling characters that I am deeply invested in, a richly layered story with mystery upon mystery. The unexpected. And transformation that leads to a rewarding and satisfying ending.
Kathleen Tessaro is a terrific storyteller! Someone whose language has great beauty and depth without being obtuse or slowing down the pace, which for me is pitch perfect. I cannot wait to read her next novel!