What I’m Reading Wednesday

19 Jun


Kathleen Tessaro transports readers to London 1955 in her fifth novel, “The Perfume Collector,” during an era of strict etiquette and image. The novel is told through two separate stories that travel through New York, Paris, the beaches of Monte Carlo and England, and eventually come together for a dramatic ending.

This historical novel offers a glimpse into the world of perfumers and the unforgettable power of scent. Like the book’s cover art, the story is also beautiful and unique. The reader gets to know an unforgettable cast of characters as they try to solve a mystery along with the main character, Grace.

Tessaro shared with me information of how “The Perfume Collector came to be and what’s next for the author:

Q and A with Kathleen Tessaro

Q: What inspired the idea of perfume? And did it require a bit of research?

A: I’ve wanted to write a story using perfume for a while because everyone has experience of it. I had the idea that perfume itself tells a story; that it can represent very vividly and completely, a certain period in a person’s life and that to smell it again, even years later, would tap into those memories and realities. The idea of having a secret history of a character “told” in three perfumes was one I found interesting. It did require a great deal of research — but such magnificent research! I got to go all over some of my favorite cities, interviewing perfumers and learning about this exquisite art form …. I don’t think I’ll ever really be done researching perfume!

Q: The Perfume Collector includes a cast of unforgettable characters. Can you share how you came to develop some of them?

A: Thank you! Well, for example, I uncovered the character of Madame Zed during my research. She was a real person and did work for Lanvin, creating about 14 different fragrances including My Sin (sometimes it’s spelled Madame Zede). Very little is known about her other than that she was probably Russian and disappeared from the perfume business after her incredible success with My Sin, though no one knows why. She was far too intriguing to miss out. Similarly Valmont was a composite of many of the real life perfumers I researched and was especially influenced by the New York perfumer Christopher Brosius. The character of Kay Waverly was founded on stories of early silent film actresses, like Mae Murray, who often had quite bizarre, sudden rises to fame and fortune only to fade into poverty and complete obscurity once more.

Q: I’m curious if there is anything behind choosing the name Grace?

A: No … in fact, that character went through quite a few name changes.

Q: I read you lived in London for 23 years. In this story you weave back and forth from England to Paris and New York. Did you draw from your own memories and experiences for this setting?

A: Yes. I love London and miss it very much. And I’ve been to France a great deal over the years, so it was a pleasure to recall my own experiences of traveling to Paris for the first time and the thrill of falling in love with such a beautiful city.

Q: What can you share about what you’re working on next?

A: My next book is called “Rare Object.” It takes place in 1933 in an antiques shop in Boston. We’ve got a woman with something to hide, a rare Greek artifact smuggled into the country, and a very dangerous love triangle.

What’s your favorite perfume or scent?


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