The Book of Lost Fragrances

A family steeped in the history and tradition of fragrance and essences, the son Robbie desperate to keep the flailing ‘House of l’Etoile’ alive, though he lacks the natural olfactory talent of his sister Jac, who is busy chasing the origins of myths (though unlike her brother does not believe in them), while trying to forget her one great love, the archeologist Griffin.

“Jac wanted to help people understand that stories existed as metaphors, lessons and maps – but not as truths.”

M.J.Rose’s The Book of Lost Fragrances’, brings all three to Paris on the trail of an elusive scent that may have the power to provoke memories of past lives, a holy grail for Buddhist’s whom Robbie is determined will have the fragments of a piece of pottery that retains some remnant of the transporting blend, at a time when there is the threat of Chinese regulations mandating the registration of all reincarnates. And it just happens that the Dalai Lama is in town on a low key visit, as is Xie, the kidnapped Panchen Lama.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

Through episodes that take us from past through to present, we begin to understand what connects the l’Etoile family with Cleopatra, a French nun named Marie-Geneviève and discover what secrets lie beneath the city, navigating the catacombs of Paris.

I can well imagine it as a film, instant travel to some stunning, majestic locations many only dream of visiting, overlaid with suspense, adventure and exotic travel back in time, however for me the book skimmed hurriedly through passages, even to the point of multiple sentences beginning with past verb tenses, as if they were to be fixed later, I found this annoying and it interrupted the flow.

“He’d been moved from the intensive care unit to a regular room. Was sleeping. Had been since she’d arrived a half hour before. She was waiting for him to wake up. Because she needed him to do something.”

All the elements are there, it just didn’t engage me as much as I had hoped it would, also due to a tendency to over explain, it is an historical account but may have worked better if the characters had informed us of some of that history rather than the narrator.

After revelling recently in the joy of Eowyn Ivey’s exquisitely constructed sentences and reading Jhumpha Lahiri’s excellent essay on Sunday entitled ‘My Life’s Sentences’ which I wholeheartedly concur with, it could just be that I had unreasonably high expectations of this exotic historical, biographical mystery. That recent foray into the realm of magical literary realism with its own excellent dose of believable suspense, did mean that next reads were likely to suffer the after effect. The snowy wilderness of Alaska, Faina, Mabel and Jack and The Snow Child’ remain indelibly marked on my reading brain.

My Magic Elixir's on Show

I did love finding out what was in the mysterious elixirs, being someone who likes to mix and make essential oil potions myself in my work, I have an intense interest in essences, aromas, their energetic, spiritual, chemical and healing properties and the synergy of a personalised blend. Just like Cleopatra!

One of my Flairesse Personal Blends

Finding the perfect blend to help an individual maintain their equilibrium is one of my specialties. Past life regressions? No one has asked me yet and if they do, I may just refer them to a hypnotherapist.

Note: This book was an Advance Reader Copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

18 thoughts on “The Book of Lost Fragrances

  1. Well I’m sorry to hear this wasn’t exactly what you expected but the story sure sounded interesting. There have been quite a few books written about perfums and there is one I could suggest called Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. Great book!!! It’s probably nothing like this one but I’m sure it will put a smile on your face. 🙂


  2. I don’t know a lot about fragrances, but if there is one that can help me find equilibrium and focus I’d sure like to know more about it! The Book of Lost Fragrances sounds very interesting and I’m sure has plenty of new insights to offer someone for whom fragrance is a vast unexplored territory; but I would also be annoyed by the clumsy writing you describe. However, it as an advance reader copy, so hopefully they will fix those sorts of things in the commercial edition.


    • There will be one blend, but mixed as a composite of many and it takes some time to find the right recipe, but that’s all part of the fun. Gabriel Mojay’s book ‘Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit’ is a good starting point for becoming acquainted with the essential oils and their multiple properties.

      French texts are great for pharmaceutical properties, here it is generally seen as a medicine, so less emphasis is placed on the aroma and more on the efficacy of each component.

      I hope you are right about the editing, it did seem rather odd to come across such rushed paragraphs.


  3. I’ve heard about this title before and was told that the description of the fragrances were so well written that you could almost smell what was being described. I may just have to read it for myself and see 🙂


  4. I was fascinated not so much by the book review but rather that your work involves creating scents. I had no idea but firmly believe that for a woman or a man – there must be a custom scent that tells their story.


    • And there is another premise for a book 🙂 an interesting idea, a scent that tells a story.
      My blends work in an almost opposite way, they are made up of the things that we lack, that bring back a balance, this can change and fluctuate and be affected by many different things, so it is always dynamic and changing, just like our moods, our health and well-being.


  5. Beautiful review, you are such a terrific writer! Thanks also for sharing the pictures of your elixirs and potions, the presentation looks lovely.


    • Could be just the advance copy thing, being new to that concept, I just read another blogger say a similar thing about a printed version, how different they are from the final thing. Would be interesting to reread and see if it changed anything. But difficult when it so affects the reading experience.


  6. It sounds like it has so much promise, the idea for the novel at least. Perhaps they were writing a screen play and then tried to adapt it as a novel? I doubt much actual plot change will take place between your galley and the final edition, but hopefully a good copy editor can clean up all of the grammar and punctuation mistakes!


  7. I had the opposite reaction to the writing in the book – the paragraphs flowed and moved beautifully for me – I really was transported and I could not put this book down. I read a review of it in the San Fran paper that called the book enchanting – and enchanting it was! I’m a fan of all of the books in the Reincarnationist series, but this one is my favorite. Highly recommended.


  8. Too bad the book was not as good as what you had hoped. That is always disappointing. It drives me crazy to invest time into reading something only to have it end less climatic that what you were hoping for. The issues with grammar would be a bit hard for me, too. I wonder why the writer chose to do that?


    • It felt like something the writer intended to come back to and then wasn’t picked up in the editing. Or perhaps it was and my advance copy was a previous version. But even without the errors, it just didn’t resonate for me unfortunately, however I am sure it will do very well and if it appeals to people, they should definitely read it, others who have read her books loved it.


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