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Monday, September 05, 2016

Scent-Soaked Story a Long, Dull Slog

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For centuries, the Rossini women have been some of Europe's most sought-after perfumiers.  With their almost otherworldly ability to create scents perfect for their wearers, the Rossinis' abilities have always been in high demand.  So much so that the family business has become more than a mere vocation; it's turned into an obsession.  After a chaotic childhood centered around the all-consuming creation of perfume, 28-year-old Elena wants nothing to do with her aromatic heritage.  So what if she's been "blessed" with the ability to identify the ingredients in a perfume by scent alone?  She's more than just a nose and she wants more than the lonely, haunted lives her mother and grandmother led.

When Elena walks in on her cheating fiancé, her well-crafted future starts to crumble before her eyes.  At loose ends, she doesn't know what to do with herself.  When her best friend suggests starting over in Paris, Elena goes.  Reluctantly.  Although her sales job in a luxurious perfume house is less than satisfactory, she loves her apartment and is intrigued by her mysterious neighbor, a handsome rose breeder.  The longer she's surrounded by the tantalizing scents that take her back to her childhood, the more Elena finds herself drawn back in the world of perfume.  Like her grandmother before her, Elena longs to discover the secret scent combination that first made her family famous.  When her own obsession starts to take over, Elena must take a hard look at herself, her family, and the future she really wants.

Comparisons to Joanne Harris' Chocolat are what drew me to The Secret Ways of Perfume, a debut novel by Italian author Cristina Caboni.  I was expecting a similar set-up— a rich, atmospheric setting; an enchanting heroine; and a storyline that kept me reading.  Did I get it?  Not exactly.  I don't know if something was lost in translation (I believe The Secret Ways of Perfume was originally published in Italian) or if perfume just doesn't excite me like chocolate does, but I really struggled to finish this book.  Without a lot of plot to keep it going, the story drags, creeping along in slow-slow motion.  The characters are too cliché to be interesting.  Caboni's flat prose doesn't help matters—relying more on tell than show, her storytelling feels lifeless and dull.  I found some of the perfume history/technique intriguing, but not compelling enough to carry the story.  In the end, I slogged through the novel only because I had committed to reviewing it.  If I had picked The Secret Ways of Perfume up at the library, I wouldn't have bothered reading past the first chapter.  

(Readalikes:  The premise is similar to Chocolat by Joanne Harris, but that's pretty much where the similarities end, in my opinion.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), and mild sexual content/innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Secret Ways of Perfume from the generous folks at Berkley/NAL, a division of Penguin.  Thank you!
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