Book of Lost Fragrances (Review)


The Book of Lost Fragrances
M.J. Rose, 2012
384 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
June, 2013

M.J. Rose is a mesmeric storyteller, combining history and science with metaphysics, mystery, and romance—then fitting it all into a framework of suspense. The Book Lost of Fragrances, fourth in Rose's reincarnation series, and written in her accomplished prose, contains all the right elements.

The novel opens in 1789, Egypt, where young perfumer Giles L'Etoile finds himself part of a French team prying open an ancient funeral crypt. Once inside, the entire team is transfixed, literally, by a powerful fragrance Giles can't identify.

The story shifts abruptly to Giles's present-day descendants. Trying to save what's left of the family's perfume business, Robbie L'Etoile comes across shards from what appears to be an ancient Egyptian pottery jar. Could this be, he wonders, proof that a long-held family legend is more than just lore—that somewhere in the family's possession is a perfume with the power to evoke past lives?

Robbie's sister, Jac, always the skeptic, believes nothing of the sort. Jac has struggled for years to reign in ugly dreams and visions that have beset her since childhood. Reality, not myth, is the foundation of her sanity. Ironically, however, Jac is the sibling with the acute sense of smell, and merely to step foot in the family perfumery, with its mix of exotic aromas, is enough to set off disturbing hallucinations.

Shifting between characters and eras, Rose takes us back to ancient Egypt, up through the French Reign of Terror, to modern day Tibet, New York, and Paris. Robbie isn't the only one seeking a possible "past-lives" perfume; others are desperate to lay claim to it for their own purposes.

What makes The Book of Lost Fragrances especially intriguing are the questions it poses—about the meaning of coincidence in a seemingly random world, the need for nurturing the soul, the possibility of reincarnation, and the mysterious power of fragrance. Is perfume the stuff of poetry, capable of eliciting dreams...or nothing more than a bit of oil and alcohol to mask unpleasant scents? There's a lot here to provoke discussion—book clubs will have fun with this one!

See our Reading Guide for The Book of Lost Fragrances.

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