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Review: The Scent Of You by Maggie Alderson

on May 11, 2017

The Scent Of You
Maggie Alderson
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 499p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Perfume blogger Polly is in crisis. Will her husband’s absence break her … or make her? A novel of perfumes, exploring life, love, loss and forgiveness – Maggie Alderson’s new bestseller.

Are you still married if you haven’t seen your husband for months?

Polly’s life is great. Her children are away at uni, her glamorous mother – still modelling at eighty-five – is happily settled in a retirement village, and her perfume blog is taking off. Then her husband announces he needs some space and promptly vanishes.

As Polly grapples with her bewildering situation, she clings to a few new friends to keep her going – Shirlee, the loudmouthed yoga student; Guy, the mysterious, infuriating and hugely talented perfumer; and Edward, an old flame from university.

And while she distracts herself with the heady world of luxury perfume, Polly knows she can’t keep reality at bay forever. Eventually she is forced to confront some difficult truths: about her husband, herself and who she really wants to be.

I’ve never read Maggie Alderson before but this book caught my attention immediately when it arrived because I love perfume. I’m not in any way knowledgeable like Polly, the main character is. She runs a perfume blog and gets invited to a lot of exciting events and launches for fragrances and is really quite well known. Her mother was a very famous model decades ago, for houses like Dior and has always had a very large perfume collection but favoured some signature scents. Polly always associated several scents with her mother – her going to a party perfume for example and she’s taken this into her everyday life. She seemed to have a very developed sense of smell, picking out a seven or so ingredient elements in a perfume very easily. I found this really interesting, so I googled the perfume I’m wearing today. According to the website, it has topnotes of pomegranate, coconut water and boysenberry, heart notes (I don’t even know what that is) of butterfly orchid, honeysuckle and blooming magnolia and base notes of blonde woods, skin musks (that sounds kind of gross to be honest) and gilded amber. And if I’m completely and utterly honest the only things I really pick up are the coconut and orchid. Maybe a touch of the boysenberry, now that I know what it is. I love perfumes though, I’ve got about a half dozen which is nothing compared to someone like Polly but I found that I really do have a bit of a “pattern” for how I choose to wear them. I have my at home perfume, which is one I just spritz on when I’m not going anywhere, maybe just the school run. I have my perfume that I wear when I’m going out but not really anywhere special, just to the shops or maybe out to brunch. I have my expensive perfume which I wear occasionally when I’m going somewhere nice, my “night” perfume which I wear out to dinner and my summer perfume which I wear only really during the warm months. Then I’ve got my “something different” perfume for when I’m bored of all of those and feel like something new. My perfumes aren’t really expensive and I don’t have  a “signature”. I buy whatever intrigues me at the time but I get the association of scents with people. My mother wears Opium and I can’t smell it without being transported back to my childhood.

So obviously this book has a lot about perfume in it as running the blog, going to events etc is part of Polly’s job and she identifies so strongly with scents that it makes up a large part of her life. But it’s not all there is to it – Polly’s personal life is in a bit of a crisis. A few days before Christmas, her husband David disappeared, leaving only a note telling her that he needed time alone and not to contact anyone or basically talk about it. Having been married for 24 years with two grown up children both at university, Polly is feeling the sting of the empty nest and David’s disappearance has only amplified that. As well as running the blog, Polly also teaches yoga each morning at her home and the loneliness she’s feeling leads to her forming friendships with several of the women who frequent her class. Through visiting her mother in a very posh retirement village (but not as we would know it) Polly has also reconnected with a former college friend, and these things all provide a distraction for her, a way to ignore the fact that her husband has vanished without warning and she doesn’t know where he is.

I found myself getting really invested in the mystery of “where is David and what is going on?” as the book progressed. At first it seems like it might be the stereotypical mid-life crisis, leaving the wife and family and taking off for a life of no responsibility or perhaps on a long work trip where he probably could be in contact but didn’t want to. But the more that you read into the story, the more that it becomes something else and when it all unfolded it was definitely something that I didn’t at all suspect and I definitely appreciated the fact that it was something unexpected and really different to anything else I’ve read where a character finds themselves in a situation similar to Polly’s. I also really liked her relationship with her children – she was very close to them and loved them very much but it felt like a realistic exasperation at times as well as pain when she finds that one of her children has been placed in a difficult position by her husband David. I felt as though Polly’s reaction to that felt very raw and real but also liked that once she had calmed down and thought on it, she didn’t hold a grudge and she was able to be a support for her children as well as they were to her, through David’s disappearance. Their family unit felt really tight but also genuine.

Some of the supporting characters were a bit too quirky – mostly the perfumer Guy, who might be brilliant but seemed to be unable to distinguish social cues and interactions and to be honest, some of his behaviour was a bit creepy and I felt like I couldn’t discern whether or not he’d end up a lifelong friend or someone that Polly ended up taking a restraining order out on. But I also felt like Polly enabled some of his outrageous behaviour as well, or wasn’t firm enough with him when he crossed boundaries and was generally acting in ways that could be seen as inappropriate. I noticed that Polly really was quite non-confrontational across the board. She preferred to retreat and calm down before facing people again, rather than just tell them that what they were doing was upsetting her etc. I could relate to that, it’s the way I tend to be too because I’d rather just avoid having to talk to people when they’re doing something that makes me angry or upset or uncomfortable.

I really enjoyed this book – loved learning more about perfumes and what goes into making them and the way in which different perfumes are included in families. It was also really fun to read about a blogger who had turned a passion into something much more and I’ve never read about perfume before. I spent about an hour after I finished the book googling the perfumes I have and learning what was in them and I’m pretty sure I’ll be googling perfumes I want to buy, seeing if they have anything in common with the ones I already own and like.

Definitely going to be looking for more Maggie Alderson books to read in the future. Not only did she take something that’s a part of my everyday life that I never thought about before and made me think about it and also enjoy thinking about it, but I also really liked the way she wrote relationships and friendships of all varieties.

8/10

Book #84 of 2017

 

The Scent Of You is book #29 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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