Thursday, July 4, 2013

Playing with History

Playing With History is a monthly column dedicated to books that are history based, but with a fictional plot. I tend to gravitate toward Henry the VIII's England or the Italian Renaissance, but here or there I plan to step out of my usual if the plot sounds promising enough. I will use our usual rating of Bookshelf, Library Bag or Donation Box.

In Kathleen Tessaro's The Perfume Collector Grace Munroe receives a mysterious letter informing her that she's the beneficiary to a will. The problem? She doesn't know the deceased. Grace leaves her life in England, a life where she's barely happy in social circles she doesn't want to be in and married to an absent, and probable cheating husband, to travel to Paris to find out more about the woman, Eva D'Orsey who has left her a fortune. In doing so she starts unraveling a mystery that spans from New York in 1927, to Monte Carlo in the 1932 to rural England in 1935 and back to Paris in 1955.

I was charmed by this book. It swaps from Grace's story to Eva's in a way that you're learning about this mysterious woman along with Grace instead of knowing things the main character doesn't which can get a little frustrating. Eva's history is spell binding. She's not a completely pure character, but she's got the right motivations. To see where she starts and how she ends up is a pleasure in story telling. Grace also gets to go through great character development. I actually found myself at the end surprised I was there already and wishing for more.

There were a few things I really enjoyed about this book. One was that it was about perfume, which is really funny because I rarely wear it and when I do, it's one scent that I buy over and over (I'd tell you what it is, but then you'd accuse me of product placement). Much like The Language of Flowers did with flora, Tessaro makes perfume about more than just smelly stuff that causes people to sneeze, but about the meaning of the scents. How different smells can bring out memories, both good and bad. 

The second thing I really liked about this book was that it wasn't about a woman needing to do something for the love or even approval of a man. Grace and Eva both did things for themselves. Grace's husband is, for the most part, a foot note in the book. She leaves for Paris with barely a thought, forget about permission as might have been the law of the land in those days. And Eva...Eva lived for Eva, but I wouldn't say in a selfish way. She might have taken up with men, but it was never for them unless she wished it to be. 

The Verdict


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