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I just finished reading a book that got me to want to do some research on perfumes. The book, The Perfume Collector by Katherine Tessaro, was surprisingly good.

It’s the story of two women, Eva and Grace. Their stories are told in alternate chapters, Eva’s in the 1920’s and Grace’s in the 1950’s. Grace, a young London wife is in an unhappy marriage. Her husband has become very materialistic and status conscious. After Grace suffers a miscarriage that leaves her unable to have children, her husband, Roger, won’t go near her. He works late and often stays at his club and finds reasons to travel away from home alone. They don’t even sleep in the same bedroom anymore. Grace discovers he is having an affair and on the same day, she gets a telegram telling her that she has inherited property and stocks in Paris. Although she doesn’t know anyone in Paris and does not recognize the name of her benefactor, Eva D’Orsey, she needs to get away from London and so she agrees to go to Paris to meet with the attorney.

We meet Eva when she is 14 years old. Her uncle takes her to work in the hotel where he works in New York City and she gets a job as a maid. Little by little, we get to know her and grow with her as she meets a variety of guests at the hotel. We then follow her as she leaves the hotel and ends up in Europe.

Grace learns of the inheritance and is determined not to accept it until she finds out who Eva D’Orsey was and why she left her as sole beneficiary. She is an orphan, her father having died of a heart attack and her mother in the blitz during WWII. There is no one to ask about Eva D’Orsey. She finds small clues and goes off, with Monsieu Tissou the attorney. Little by little she learns the truth.

Along the way, we learn about the nature of scent and the process of making perfumes. Tessaro even uses real people who were involved in perfumeries in Paris in the 20’s. That’s what led me to want to research perfumes and the successful perfume creators of Paris in the period in which the novel takes place. It’s really very fascinating, at least to me.

Favorite quote from the book: “But if you’re going to get paid to swallow, my dear, you’d better learn not to choke!”

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