LitPicks Book Reviews—June 2013

Theme—The Mysterious Power of Perfume
Three books explore the age-long hold that exotic scent has over the human imagination—it's power to evoke memory, elicit passion, and even inspire crime. Two works of fiction and one nonfiction.
 

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The Perfume Collector
Kathleen Tessaro, 2013
464 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
June, 2013

Reading this lovely novel, it's hard not to think of The Language of Flowers. The similarities are thematic: both are coming-of-age stories—and where one uses flowers, the other uses perfume as a gateway to self-knowledge.

In 1955, Londoner Grace Munroe learns she has inherited a sizable estate from Eva D'Orsey, a Frenchwoman. Yet Grace has no idea who Eva is, let alone why she left Grace her money.
 

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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.
 

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The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession
 
and the Last Mystery of the Senses
Chandler Burr, 2003
352 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
June, 2013

Chandler Burr has fashioned this nonfiction work, a scientific examination of human smell, into a near novel. Despite charts, graphs—and lengthy disquisitions on isotopes—he's written a gripping, very human narrative.

The hero of his story is Lucca Turin, a brilliant, charismatic, often combative biologist, who has challenged scientific thinking about how our noses actually work. Given our knowledge of biology, according to Turin, human smell should be impossible: "we actually shouldn't be able to smell at all." That mystery is at the heart of this book.

 

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