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.
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.
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!
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.