Back when I was at university, I was a moderately successful beauty/fashion blogger. It gave me a chance to get excited about something when I was feeling bogged down by work. It’s also the period in my life when I read the least, because after reading around 10 books in four days, then writing 2000 words about them, every single week, the last thing I wanted was to spend my free time doing more reading! I missed out on a lot of fiction in those years.
However! That time with beauty products as my main hobby left me with two things – a great skincare routine and a deep, deep love of perfume. After leaving university, I got into indie perfume, and I now have over 500 different scents in carefully labelled boxes. I jumped at the chance to read this book when Harper360 asked for reviewers, because the tag line (“a novel in perfumes”) sounded perfect for me.
Book: The Scent of You by Maggie Alderson
Read before: No
Ownership: Paperback copy sent in exchange for an honest review.
You may have noticed that I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction. Most of the time, I’m looking for escapism and prefer magic and mysterious journeys to the ins-and-outs of everyday life. That’s not to say I don’t pick it up, occasionally (I’m a big fan of Sophie Kinsella and I’ve certainly been known to enjoy a cupcake-y cafe-y book club-y sort of read). The Scent of You was much darker than I was expecting from the sugary pink cover, but I’m so glad I gave it a chance, because it’s proven to me that contemporary fiction can be just as engaging as fantasy!
The book centres around the breakdown of Polly’s marriage – or rather, the brutal slash through it when her husband David ups and leaves unexpectedly, telling his bewildered family not to try to contact him. Polly has to juggle her responsibilities as a mother, a daughter, a perfume blogger, and a yoga teacher, as well as having to come to terms with the new state of her life.
The main thing that struck me on opening the book is that Maggie Alderson’s writing is simply lovely. You find yourself instantly rooting for Polly, just because she is so engagingly written. She has so many facets to her that you can easily imagine sitting down for a glass of wine with her, and the supporting characters are also well-drawn and nuanced. I absolutely loved Polly’s relationship with her children. Everyone is flawed, and utterly realistic. Guy is a bizarre addition to the cast of otherwise fairly-down-to-earth characters, but like an unusual accord in a perfume that turns out to be the perfect addition, he’s actually the spice that makes the middle of the book so fun amongst the dark times.
I did find the character names deeply annoying, though. Polly/Hippolyta’s obsession with her own name is one thing, but surely nobody who had been saddled with such an unwieldy name would call her daughter ‘Clemmie’/Clementine. It’s not even a nice sounding word. Poor Clemmie. Shirlee with two E’s also made me annoyed, though I’ll admit it suited her character, but the worst of all was Chum. I get that it’s a nickname, and that posh boys often have stupid nicknames, but who can get behind a romantic lead named after a bucket full of fish guts?! Even Polly had difficulty using the name when talking about him to other characters, because it’s just so stupid and unromantic.
Far and away my favourite thing in this book was the perfume theme. Polly’s blog posts were gorgeously written, and I loved the comments that she got – some supportive, some self-obsessed. I used to find that the majority of comments were just ‘I like this perfume’, too, without any real engagement, so seeing this here made me snort with laughter. Luckily the book community is a lot more talkative! But the blog posts are not the only way perfume is built it – it really feels like a pillar of Polly’s life. It’s a useful tool for her to process her thoughts, and a comfort, and a way to change her mood, and it’s just brilliantly worked in. I found myself wishing that there were scratch-and-sniff sections, especially for Guy’s gorgeously described and sadly fictional perfumes!
(I’m not sure that more than a handful of bloggers have a lifestyle like that, though! Swanky parties, perfumes named after her, a constant stream of high-profile events… It read a little like wish-fulfillment to an actual blogger. A non-blogger would probably enjoy this more fully, but if you know about the work of blogging, then you will have to take Polly’s life with a pinch of salt..!)
Overall, I really enjoyed watching the threads of the story coming together – Maggie Alderson keeps all the different plots juggling nicely along, and I really wanted to find out what was happening with David. It’s a pretty long book, at just under 500 pages, but it’s compelling enough that it moves very quickly. I loved watching Polly realise what was important to her, and the ending, while happy and satisfying, doesn’t make out that this is a fairy tale. The Scent of You is a study of a woman, and a very clever and engaging one. A definite must-read for fans of the genre, and certainly worth it if you are a perfume nerd!
Four out of five cats from me today!
An extra tidbit, because this book made me want to talk perfume!
All of Polly’s blog posts are themed around ‘the scent of…’ things in her life (her daughter, her memories, her dog)
The scent of this book, then:
Nina by Nina Ricci – my first perfume love. A sweet, sugary, springy scent perfect for daytime. I wear this (or one of the many variations I have) a lot, so a lot of my books have a gentle tinge of Nina!
Chloe by Chloe – the scent of my mum. She wears the original scent, but I wear Roses de Chloe for a twist on it with a familiar, safe feel (she doesn’t do rose, but I do). This is a perfume for when I feel nervous, when I want to feel comforted, when I want to feel grown up and put together. My mum is my best friend, even if she isn’t an international supermodel like Daphne, so wearing this is like a big hug.
Imperiled Maiden by Poesie Perfume – a soft, sweet scent, with roses and cedar. I wore this on the morning I finished this book, because the rose bush in the garden came out into magnificent bloom overnight.
Aqua Allegoria Limon Verde by Guerlain – my husband’s summeriest scent. Completely unisex and so fresh. Smells like you’ve just finished sipping cocktails at the beach at sunset. This book made me think a lot about marriage, and although I’m at the other end of the timeline from Polly (nearly two years rather than twenty four), I couldn’t not put in a scent for my lovely husband.
and finally, but certainly not least:
Ambre Solaire after sun by Garnier – this is in no way a perfume, and yet is the scent of my teenage years. One sniff of this lovely after sun spray makes me nostalgic for the summers I spent translating Latin, hanging around the shopping centre, playing guitar, and drinking cider with my friends in the park. Like Polly with her Yardley Lily of the Valley, it’s not always the classic designer perfumes that hold the greatest memories. It’s also super useful if you stayed out in the sun yesterday like me and burned yourself.
Thanks so much, Harper Collins, for letting me have a chance to read this one!