Review: The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen TessaroFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback
Genre: Historical fiction
Length: 464 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date Released: May 14, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Newlywed Grace Monroe doesn’t fit anyone’s expectations of a successful 1950s London socialite, least of all her own. When she receives an unexpected inheritance from a complete stranger, Madame Eva d’Orsey, Grace is drawn to uncover the identity of her mysterious benefactor.

Weaving through the decades, from 1920s New York to Monte Carlo, Paris, and London, the story Grace uncovers is that of an extraordinary women who inspired one of Paris’s greatest perfumers. Immortalized in three evocative perfumes, Eva d’Orsey’s history will transform Grace’s life forever, forcing her to choose between the woman she is expected to be and the person she really is.

My Review:

It’s not just perfume that is being collected in Kathleen Tessaro’s The Perfume Collector; it’s the collection of memories that are the ultimate prize in this interwoven tale of two women’s choices.

It is 1927. And it is 1955. Both are times of heady exuberance. Grace Monroe is summoned from London to Paris in 1955 because she has just inherited a small fortune from Eva D’Orsay.

Eva D’Orsay is a complete stranger. Grace feels compelled to investigate the reasons behind this mysterious bequest. It is a plus that her halting investigation provides her with an excuse to remain in Paris, away from her increasingly distant, and carelessly unfaithful, husband.

Stumbling through a past that Grace was not supposed to uncover, she finds a young woman forced to make her own way in the world. A woman who used the only talents at her disposal; her beauty, her incredible gift for feats of mathematics, and a surprising ability for captivating people.

Eva’s path crossed a great gambler who taught her how to make money at cards, and a great perfume maker, who taught her the essence of his craft. Eva was Charles Lamb’s apprentice, and Andre Valmont’s muse. But what were they to her? And what was she to Grace Munroe?

Why did she make her bequest to Grace with the words “the right to choose?”

Escape Rating B+: It’s been said that the past is another country; 1955 is over 50 years ago, the world was different, especially for women. Grace is expected to be a wife and a mother. She’s uncomfortable with the first and the second has become impossible. Her life is at a crossroads when Eva’s bequest is dropped into her lap.

1927 is an entire world away, and yet both eras were times of not just plenty, but intense joie de vivre: post-war booms, before the world went through fundamental changes; respectively the Great Depression and the upheavals of the 1960s.

Grace has been privileged and sheltered all of her life, Eva starts as a small-town girl who knows very little of life outside her tiny sphere and with very few advantages. In spite of their differences in time, place and background, they have a lot in common. They are both women in times when women are not supposed to have much agency in their world. Eva makes her own path, often at a high cost to herself. She has determined that Grace will have choices that she did not.

As Grace investigates Eva’s life, she takes possession of her own. The slow double-reveal makes for a marvelous story.

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