The Perfume Collector: Book summary and reviews of The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

The Perfume Collector

By Kathleen Tessaro

The Perfume Collector
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  • Published in USA  May 2013,
    464 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

The Perfume Collector explores the complex and obsessive love between muse and artist, and the tremendous power of memory and scent.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Nuanced observations soften the blow of the contrived banter, familiar form, and one particularly overindulgent shopping-day passage." - Publishers Weekly

"A bewitching, compelling novel, full of dark desires, long-buried secrets, revisited memories, and new opportunities." - Booklist

"A colorful, stimulating journey through time." - Kirkus

"Beautiful imagery and prose are the strong points of this seductive story that paints the most bewitching picture imaginable of perfume creation and the muses who inspire it. The themes are brilliant ... and likely to leave readers feeling awestruck by the end of this classy and unforgettable novel." - Romantic Times

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Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by SandraH
Delightful, well wrought and mysterious love story
Kathleen Tessaro's "the Perfume Collector" is told through the lives of two women who struggle to find their niche, their place in life.
Eva d'Orsey, an orphaned 14 year old immigrant is put into service at the Warwick Hotel by her uncle who has decided that she is old enough to fend for herself. The Warwick caters to celebrities, the well-to-do and the hangers-on. Her story begins in 1928 and is juxtaposed with that of Grace Munroe a naive young woman from a sheltered background who has married an up and coming young lawyer and become part of sophisticated social life of 1955 London.
The book opens with Eva making a will that names Grace as the beneficiary of her considerable wealth. What follows is the story of Eva's attempts to rise above her humble beginnings through cunning and compromise. Her ability to use and understand numbers makes her a valuable asset to gambler Walter Lambert and also leads her into the acquaintance of Madame Zed, a woman who creates exquisite perfumes and Valmont her prodigy.

We follow Eva as she manipulates her way through a life filled with compromises from 1928 until 1954 when she leaves an expensive apartment and her stocks to Grace.

Grace is an unhappy young wife, bored with being a socialite who finds out that her husband has been cheating on her. Confounded by the letter from Eva's solicitor asking to come to Paris and claim her inheritance, Grace decides to do just that and escape her unhappy life.

From this point on we follow the lives of Eva and Grace in alternating chapters. While it isn't particularly difficult to figure out their relationship, that isn't what makes this novel worth reading. It is the tangles and complications which had caused their decisions, the fascinating people that enter their lives, how creating exquisite perfumes ties them together and romance that keep one reading.

Tessaro's story may not be new but is delightfully told. I loved the desperate Eve as she manipulates her way through seemingly impossible problems and the unhappy Grace who wants more than an empty life filled with pleasing her husband and fitting into the shallow life of a socialite.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Jana
An enjoyable read
The story is told in alternating chapters by Grace Munroe, a young English woman looking for a resolution to her marital problems and Eva d'Orsey, her mysterious French benefactor. As Grace tries to discover why this woman she never met or even heard of has left her a legacy, she comes to see herself and her marriage more clearly. While the story is interesting, the perfume descriptions reminded me of the terms used by serious wine-tasters, which I don't find very illuminating. The solution to the mystery was also somewhat predictable, but I still found the book enjoyable.

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More Information

Born in Pittsburgh, Kathleen Tessaro emigrated to London where she worked as an actress in films, television, and theater, while training to be a drama teacher and voice coach. She is the author of the novels Elegance, Innocence, and The Flirt. Kathleen currently lives in Pennsylvania.

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