The Perfume Collector: A Novel

The Perfume Collector: A Novel

4.3 251
by Kathleen Tessaro

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London, 1955: Grace Monroe is a fortunate young woman. Despite her sheltered upbringing in Oxford, her recent marriage has thrust her into the heart of London's most refined and ambitious social circles. However, playing the role of the sophisticated socialite her husband would like her to be doesn't come easily to her—and perhaps never will.

Then one

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London, 1955: Grace Monroe is a fortunate young woman. Despite her sheltered upbringing in Oxford, her recent marriage has thrust her into the heart of London's most refined and ambitious social circles. However, playing the role of the sophisticated socialite her husband would like her to be doesn't come easily to her—and perhaps never will.

Then one evening a letter arrives from France that will change everything. Grace has received an inheritance from a mysterious benefactor, Eva d'Orsey, whom she's never met.

So begins a search that takes Grace to a long-abandoned perfume shop on Paris's Left Bank, where she discovers the seductive world of perfumers and their muses, and a surprising love story. Told by invoking the three distinctive perfumes she inspired, Eva d'Orsey's story weaves through the decades, from 1920s New York to Monte Carlo, Paris, and London.

But these three perfumes hold secrets. And as Eva's past and Grace's future intersect, Grace must choose between the life she thinks she should live and the person she is truly meant to be.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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)
Glamouron Elegance
"Witty…proves that confidence never goes out of fashion."
Kirkus Reviews
The story of a woman who receives an unexpected inheritance, from Pennsylvania-based author Tessaro (Innocence, 2005, etc.). Grace Munroe, a young woman in London in 1955, receives a letter from Paris informing her that a woman she has never heard of has just died and left her an apartment and an investment portfolio. Believing it must be a mistake, she flies to Paris to investigate this strange inheritance. The story then moves back in time and across the ocean to New York in the 1920s, and they are definitely roaring. Moving from continent to continent and decade to decade, the author reveals the sometimes-tragic, sometimes-exhilarating life journey of Eva D'Orsey. A brilliantly gifted orphan, Eva is catapulted by circumstances into womanhood at a young age. Her journey involves following two men she met while working with the housekeeping staff of a high-end New York hotel. One of these men is himself an orphan and the protégé of an older Russian woman, Madame Zed, who teaches him the art and science of creating perfumes. Andre opens a perfume store in Paris while Eva is in Monte Carlo, counting cards for the rebellious son of an aristocratic English family. Before long, Eva joins Andre at the perfumery in Paris, but then the Nazis take over, and Andre, a Jew, is carted off to a concentration camp despite Eva's attempt to save him. Eva's story, told from her perspective, is interspersed with her story as told by Madame Zed to Grace Munroe, who has followed a clue to the old perfume shop. A colorful, stimulating journey through time.
Good Housekeeping
“Fragrance, fashion, and a puzzling bequest lead a 1950s British socialite into a whirl of Parisian intrigue in Kathleen Tessaro’s The Perfume Collector.”
Woman and Home (UK)
“A mesmerising novel of passion and scent.”
Glamour (UK)
“This evocative novel spins you back a few decades to the 20s and 50s where a young bride suppresses her intellect to be the trophy wife her husband desires. She is devasted when he is unfaithful but could it be the making of her?”
NY Daily News
“A lovely tale of a young woman in London who receives a mysterious inheritance that brings her to Paris and eventually to an old perfume shop. . . . Sigh.”
“A bewitching, compelling novel, full of dark desires, long-buried secrets, revisited memories, and new opportunities.”
Romantic Times
“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.”
USA Today on Elegance
“Through vivid descriptions, lively mishaps and devastating details, Tessaro serves up a witty, original, fast-moving debut.”
Glamour on Elegance
“Witty…proves that confidence never goes out of fashion.”
Kate Alcott
The Perfume Collector is a crackling, beautifully paced story that weaves the world of fragrance into the lives of two vibrant women in a way few have experienced. Inhale deeply—a new way of telling a story of the heart.”
Library Journal
Englishwoman Grace Monroe travels to Paris in search of answers as well as escape from her unhappy marriage after receiving a bequest from the mysterious Eva d'Orsey, a woman she has never heard of. The novel's chapters alternate between Grace's Paris sojourn in 1955 and Eva's story, which begins with a job in a New York City hotel in 1927, at the age of 14. Tessaro (The Debutante) has written an entertaining novel with two protagonists readers will care about, and if the answer to why Eva has left her fortune to Grace is fairly obvious early on, it doesn't matter. VERDICT A compelling plot in a truly magical Parisian setting, fascinating information about the way perfume is made, and great secondary characters make this a charming read. Tessaro does a marvelous job of conveying the atmosphere of a fairytale trip to 1950s Paris by a woman who finds herself, and romance, in the City of Light. Readers of the works of Emily Giffin and Laura Florand will enjoy.—Elizabeth Mellett, Brookline P.L., MA

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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Product dimensions:
5.88(w) x 8.36(h) x 1.43(d)

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The Perfume Collector: A Novel 4.3 out of 5 based on 2 ratings. 251 reviews.
lucieparis2011 More than 1 year ago
An incredible journey through time, passions, smells and ambitions. A delicate and accurate portrayal of chosen women in the last century. This novel amazed and intoxicated me.  It reads like a police investigation to find out the reasons behind the legacy left for Grace by a stranger.  Therefore, an immersion into Eva's memories. An adventurous woman who begins her journey as a maid in a New York hotel as a teen, to her professional gambling life. She was also a muse and mistress to influential men. Full of unexpected happy or unhappy events. Full of memorable encounters. Full of devouring  and heartbreaking passions. A wonderful and moving slice of life! But also, a wealth of informations about odors and the manufacture of perfumes. On the status of women in the 20s to 60s. Women's relationship to money, to men in the prosperous and most troubled years of the past. A moving and captivating story. I was touched by these strong and vulnerable women who were not afraid to make choices... Lucie
The_Book_Wheel_Blog More than 1 year ago
Note: I received The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro book as part of the SheReads network. As a non-perfume wearer, I must admit I was hesitant when I first read the synopsis of this book. Perfume? Muse? It all seemed, to be honest, a bit hokey. But because SheReads has yet to disappoint me, I forged ahead anyway. Boy, am I glad I did! Not only is this book anything but hokey, it is not really about perfume at all. While The Perfume Collector is carried by the undercurrent of the perfume world, it could just as easily have been any other ‘elegant’ collector’s item (books, thimbles, animal figurines, tea sets….) Rather, the story is about hopes, dreams, disappointments, loves lost or found, and family. The fact that the underlying theme of perfume could be easily substituted is demonstrative of the power of the characters and their stories.¿ Unlike most books that switch between timeframes, The Perfume Collector doesn’t hop between centuries.  The two stories often overlap in their timeframes, which added an element of mystery that I loved. Combined with Tessaro’s elegant writing style (which allowed me to fly through the 450+ pages fairly quickly), this book has landed itself near the top of my summer reading recommendations. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I bought it to read on vacation in Europe and I couldn't have picked a better one...the book goes back and forth from the present to Europe during World War 2. The characters are interesting and dynamic, and the storyline compelling. I didn't want to put it down and couldn't wait to get back to it at night or on the train. The only thing that I wasn't completely crazy about was the ending....I felt that it was anticlimactic and I was left feeling incomplete. Other than that, A+ for an overall great story line, character development and historical fiction book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A lovely story about a muse, and the perfumes she inspired. Its a moving and touching story. You will fall in love with Eva d'Orsey.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book over the holidays. It was easy to follow and I didn't feel the need to re-read a chapter to pick up on where I left off a day before. Unusual story line. I did enjoy it !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully told story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I started this book I wasn't sure what to think. The more I read the more I had to keep going. I ended up finishing the second half of the book in about three hours without meaning to. Its a nice, sensual and sad sort of story all at once.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Eloquent, lovely novel which spans many decades across several characters. The language is beautiful, as is the slow evolution of Grace and Eva D' Orsey.  Not too heavy on romance, but masters the sense of attraction two people have despite several odd circumstances. Must read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book. The story is set in another place and time and depicts a lifestyle that is not often talked about. It crosses decades and social levels. There were times when I skimmed over the details of perfume ingredients just to move more quickly through the book. Overall, it was a good read...I was not disappointed...and I will most likely read it again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You know you liked a book when you miss the characters after you finished reading. I found myself lost in the story and looked forward to picking it up all the way to the end. It was a great summer read.
sneps More than 1 year ago
An Excellent Historical Fiction Novel! I have not read any of Kathleen Tessaro’s book, prior to this one, so I read this book without any expectations of a particular writing style. From the beautiful book cover, to the first pages, I was hooked. I was a little confused at first, so I did have to flip back to the first pages to see who I was reading about. It starts with Eva and at the tail end of her disease, with the next chapter beginning with Grace-a socialite, who seems quite disconnected from her husband and social circle. It isn’t until Grace receives an airplane ticket with news of her being the sole beneficiary, that she finally has some direction and decides to embark on an adventure. While Grace leaves knowing her husband is having an affair, she somehow blames herself because of an unfortunate incident that happens to her. While there isn’t a lot of interaction and dialogue between her and her husband, the author does a superb job in showing what happens to Grace as she learns who Eva is. It is quite obvious that the author did extensive research, prior to writing, but it doesn’t come off with more information and less interaction. Rather, it enhances the reader’s overall experience with this book. There is so much detail, and Eva certainly has an extraordinary (while difficult, too) life. I was mesmerized by the beauty of the story, loved the characters, and admired the way Eva broke all conventions by her role as a maid to later being a shopgirl…with other roles in between! This is an absolutely fantastic historical book, that readers will love from page 1. Readers will want to know who Eva is, how she can smoke in the face of death, and how she bypasses barriers men and society place on women…certainly not meant for likes of Eva! My only desire is that the author would have included a little perfume collection to accompany this book! -booksintheburbs
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story was so fascinating from beginning to end! Very different from any novel I have read before. Im so glad i found this book! Don't miss it!!!
irishclaireKG More than 1 year ago
Rather predictable but a totally enjoyable read. 'Perfume Collector' is one of those thoroughly enjoyable novels where, even when you somewhat see what is coming, it doesn't make a bit of difference. It is so well written, moves so smoothly and effortlessly, and the plot/characters are so engrossing, you just sit down and indulge in one, long, sitting. Moving between three decades, the novel traces the journeys of two women in particular, struggling to define themselves and their identities in a time period where 'women's rights' was not only a radical new idea, but a terrifying concept as well. What is also fascinating here is the information on the art behind truly great perfumers: what goes into creating classic, signature scents, the genius/artistry is often demands. That information, in lesser hands, could have been presented in a dragging, boring way, but the author here handles it beautifully. The reader is not dragged down but intrigued by the information--tends to make you look at that bottle of cologne on your dresser quite differently.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a great read! Beautiful, sensual, perfumed. I thought the ending was just right, although I'd love a sequel. Grace was intriguing, and I'd love to know what she did with her life! The perfume ingredients were so tantalizing, I could almost smell them. Eva was an extraordinary woman, and I cared about the both of them. Just read it, you'll be glad you did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Or blend as author intended fornatic but lacks those descriptions of a foreign country that makes you want to go there unpleasant people puts one off caring what happened orwhat might happen with the heroine chick lit without the chic
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved how the author merged two stories together, in the 20's and then in the 20th century. This was an interesting and moving storyline with characters that the reader cares about. It's a beautiful read.
Beverly_D More than 1 year ago
3.5 stars. A not-particularly mysterious inheritance leads Londoner Grace Monroe on a journey to Paris to discover why her benefactor, Eva D'Orsey would leave her a valuable flat, stocks, and some cheap trinkets. Grace's story is set in 1955; Eva's begins in New York City, 1927. Both women smoke. Yes, typical for the period, but for a modern reader, it's jarring, and somewhat paradoxical, in a book that's all about scent and perfume, since smoking dulls the sense of smell. There's a character, Madame Zed, who is so sensitive to odors that she can't stand the smell of bleach in her hotel bathroom, yet everyone around her is constantly puffing away, and THAT doesn't bother her...? If there was a drinking game to take a shot every time someone lit a cigarette in this book, the reader would risk death by alcohol poisoning by the end (like Eva herself). Much of the writing is beautiful. I especially loved the weird ingredients in the perfume formulas, the hint of earthiness or decay necessary to make a really memorable scent. Those descriptions leave a lingering fragrance in the mind. The plot is thin; I think everyone BUT Grace has figured out who Eva is in relation to her, long before she gets it. I also felt cheated of Eva's transformation; we see her as a young, naive, and soon traumatized 14 year-old, and in her next scene, she's glamorous, poised, so sophisticated in the ways of the world she can tutor/act as muse to a young parfumist with great skills in formulation, not so much with people. How did Eva get from Point A to Point B? Grace's transformation is done subtly, but well. The story is told from omniscient point of view and IMO, there are some unnecessary digressions into the heads of minor characters which add nothing to the story. But overall, despite (or perhaps because of) its flaws, it's a lovely book and I do recommend it. 
njd315 More than 1 year ago
A novel that will introduce the reader to a world few of us know, the world of exotic perfumes. This narrative is intertwined in a story of mystery and vengeance, of love and loss, played out against the backdrop of two great cities, London and Paris. I loved it! The characters are so well drawn and so sympathetic, they draw you in. I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Read it in one day. The story goes from 1920's, 1944 andd 1955. It is about the life of a young French girl EVA who comes to America as an ophan and ends up as a maid in a NYC hotel. She is an innocent young woman who is drawn into a world of drinking, gambling and intrigue. The 1955's bring in the character of another young woman Grace who is connected to Eva. Good story. Would recommend
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book so much. Imagine finding out about an inheritance yet not recognizing the name nor do you know who this person is. Totally intriguing.
Anonymous 30 days ago
Enjoyed very much
Anonymous 12 months ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read. I finished most of it in one night because it was hard to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago