I imagine that France in 1955 was rather glamorous. To find an abandoned perfume shop filled with scents from around the world would be a treasure to the senses, especially when those perfumes were collected by one of the world’s most sought after perfumers. In The Perfume Collector, perfume isn’t just something women apply to their wrists, but how two stories are told.
Grace Munroe’s story starts in London in 1955. She has a husband with money and a good family name; she spends her days napping and nights getting dressed up for socialite hosted dinner parties. As goes the tale of the 1950s housewife, she wants to be more than just someone’s wife. Her monotonous life is interrupted when she receives a letter from a Monsiour Tissot, asking her to travel to France where she is to sign papers as heir to Eva d’Orsey’s estate.
Eva d’Orsey’s story is told through three perfumes: La Première, Auréole Noire and Choses Perdus. From 1927 to 1935, and just briefly in 1942, Eva lives a life much different from Grace’s. She is not a wife, she finds herself without a good family name, but has a unique gift and scent that take her on a journey around the world.
Having never met Eva, Grace is determined to find a connection between them, two women separated by decades and seem to be linked by an abandoned perfume shop.
I enjoyed reading about perfume making, specifically the slow process of extracting scents. It was interesting that the best perfumers weren’t interested in making a popular scent for all women to wear, but instead crafting a memory. The perfumers were chemists and artists, mixing scents to recreate memories of snow or summer rain with the intention of transporting their wearer to a different time through their sense of smell.
Although this story is told during two wonderful decades, there is little history to be had. While I especially enjoyed reading about the perfumers, there were too many underdeveloped characters and holes in the plot for me to really enjoy this novel. If you want to give the novel a try, it did receive many great reviews, it just wasn’t for me.