Flipping back and forth between Grace and Eva, The Perfume Collector explores identity and how perceptions are not always reality. As Grace rushes to resolve the mystery of her unknown benefactor, the final truth, once revealed, is nothing she expects to find. At the same time, the woman Grace discovers herself to be is in no way similar to the meek, awkward thing to which readers are first introduced. It is a most satisfactory example of character growth, just as it is a wonderfully fluid story that quietly but completely immerses a reader into its depths.
Much of the novel explores the hedonistic lifestyle of the rich and famous in the 1920s and, to some extent of the 1950s. While Eva is only on the fringes of this society, it is all too easy to imagine how seductive a lifestyle it really was thanks to Ms. Tessaro’s exacting prose. The juxtaposition between what she sees as she cleans the hotel rooms and what she knows and hears from her morally upright roommate only serves to heighten the allure of one over the other. A reader cannot help but make further comparisons between Eva’s 1920s socialite lifestyle to the one Grace inhabits. While the ongoing war recovery subdues the fervor to some extent, there remains the same appetite for pleasure, for gossip, and for scandal that exists in Eva’s youth. It provides for an intriguing contrast between characters and their milieus.
The historical elements of The Perfume Collector are superb but even they place second against the fascinating information about the perfume industry. Ms. Tessaro’s descriptions of scent are highly evocative, while her explanations of the complex process of creating perfumes is absolutely stunning. One finishes the novel with a heightened appreciation for the beauty in all natural aroma and a desire to find that one uniquely individual scent which is as much as one’s identity as appearance.
The Perfume Collector is as carefully layered as the most delicate of fragrances. Ms. Tessaro builds her story using a mixture of beautifully depicted settings, luscious characters, and the most vibrant of descriptions. With shifts between time and character clearly distinguished, the story flows smoothly between past and present, adding complexity and intrigue with each change. The result is a novel that entices all of the senses and entrances with its tale of love, heart break, and personal growth.