The Perfume Collector ~ Kathleen Tessaro

Moving is one of those magical experiences that eats up time like a black hole gobbling everything. Absolutely everything. Consequently, this post is a long time coming. At least, it’s longer than anticipated. I actually finished this book about two weeks ago and meant to yell from the rooftops, but the rooftops had to wait.

Many boxes and too many car rides and a few irritated cardboard box cuts later, I’m back on the roof.

Kathleen Tessaro’s The Perfume Collector is a beautifully crafted story about Grace Munroe, a young upper class Englishwoman who finds herself the recipient of an unexpected inheritance, and Eva D’Orsey, the mysterious Frenchwoman who has named Grace her sole beneficiary. Grace journeys to Paris, in disbelief at the news that a woman she does not know has left her a sizable fortune. Unwilling to blindly, mindlessly accept the money and leave, Grace seeks out anyone who might have known Eva. In a derelict perfume shop, she meets a woman, seemingly the only person left who knew Eva, and learns through three perfumes the story of a remarkable individual.

The Perfume Collector is an enchanting story containing all the crucial elements of a genuinely entertaining read: mystery, romance, glamour, tragedy. Although its reveals are perhaps not so surprising and its ending thoroughly predictable, the story itself remains compelling and marvelous because its real beauty lies in the details of the protagonists’ lives and in the development of their characters. The prose is elegant, visual and visceral, embodying the use of perfume as a narrative lens.

I loved this book for so many reasons. Of course, the writing itself. I absolutely will not slog through a blandly written story; I’ve gotten very picky. I loved the scents and visions Tessaro evoked with her narrative style. The protagonists were also marvelous. Eva is a brilliant individual whose intelligence, grit, and cleverness help her transcend the socially-constructed class and gender barriers placed around her. Grace is also intelligent; she is determined, stubborn, and inquisitive. Over the course of the story, she gains confidence, reclaims her intelligence, and discovers the thrill of autonomy. Both women transcend the societal assumptions and restrictions to live life on their own terms. The stories themes of self-actualization are uplifting and joyful, even as they underscore the not-so-joyful circumstances that must often be overcome in the process.

And yes, it’s nice to have a story where women can be fully human without it having to be a big deal (as though women being human first and female second were some sort of revelation rather than an actual, since-the-dawn-of-humanity fact) or a statement on the author’s cleverness/timeliness/genius/worthiness.

Ultimately, The Perfume Collector is a beautiful story told in vivid, gorgeous language. It is a tale of transcending challenges, reminding the reader to strive for the positive rather than wallowing in the negative.

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Good Omens ~ Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

So I finally finished Good Omens. It took me long enough. I don’t usually read this slow, but I’ve had so much going on. I suppose that’s just the way it is sometimes.

This book has been around for some time now. 27 years, to be precise. That’s older than me. This book is old enough that the copy I read has a foreword in which the authors discuss writing the book and something that might count as an afterword that discusses the book’s status as a “cult classic.” From what I can tell, those who know it and love it, know it and love it thoroughly.

Considering, however, that I am now officially an adult and hadn’t even known of the existence of this book despite having heard of the authors and considering this book is older than today’s newest vanguard of adulthood, discussing this book seems to me to contain merit beyond me spewing my opinions at you. Not that spewing my opinions at you isn’t reason enough. Opinion-spewing is fashionable these days.

My favorite part of Good Omens is the humour. Now, if you have read this book or pick it up in the near future, you will say to me, perhaps with a twinge of sarcasm

“That’s very nice, but the whole thing’s a bloody handbook on comedy.”

True, but that’s why it’s so brilliant. The book never stops being funny, which is absolutely incredible. Even comedy movies need to take a break from being funny for a moment, probably because the writers have run out of jokes and think that humour and character development are mutually exclusive. This is the book to prove them wrong (which, of course, makes me wonder where they’ve been all these years because they’ve had 27 years to mend the error of their ways).

Furthermore, the comedy is smart. Sometimes, it’s even borderline satiric. It’s satire that’s having way too much fun. It’s satire that’s challenging ideas and telling you smart things while cracking you up so hard you’ll spill your tea (or coffee or cocoa; whatever you drink while you read, I suggest you set it down first).

Good Omens qualifies, then, as a fun read. You can read it on the train or in a plane or after a particularly stressful day. It’s the type of book you can read before bed. It won’t leave you weeping. It’s lighthearted.

Another bit of the book’s magic is in the seamless blending of fantastical and mundane elements. I have not yet read a Terry Pratchett book, but I do know that this overlapping of worlds is something Neil Gaiman does well and, frankly, often. The idea of taking a traditional story and bringing it to today’s reality and reimagining it within those bounds is very Neil Gaiman.

What are these fantastical elements, you say? What is this story reimagined? That is where you pick up the book and find out for yourself.