cover image The Perfume Collector

The Perfume Collector

Kathleen Tessaro. Harper, $24.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-225783-3

Tessaro (Innocence) dazzles the senses in this novel about a reluctant British socialite who receives a mysterious inheritance from an unknown Frenchwoman in 1950s Europe. Tessaro’s flashback-layered narrative concerns the mildly clichéd Grace Munroe, a London housewife yearning for a sense of purpose, and Eva d’Orsey, an older Frenchwoman “living between memory and regret.” After Eva dies, Grace is surprised to receive a letter naming her as chief beneficiary. Upon arriving in Paris she meets Edouard Tissot, Eva’s lawyer and, predictably, a potential love interest. Searching for her connection to Eva, Grace discovers a derelict perfume shop staffed by Russian-born master perfumer Madame Zed, who weaves a preachy morality tale about the downfall of young orphaned Eva in New York City a quarter-century before. As Eva’s history surfaces, Grace finds the value in her inheritance and the price Eva paid to bestow it. Predictably, Tessaro cycles between narratives, but brings the cities to life, from the “dreamy, shifting blues and dusky greens” of a London “Turner watercolour” morning to the “glowing softness” of Paris. Nuanced observations soften the blow of the contrived banter, familiar form, and one particularly overindulgent shopping-day passage. Agent: Jennifer Joel, ICM. (May)