Reviewed by Colleen Turner
“She remembered, when she was little and things were still good, she’d sit on her father’s lap, here at the organ, and he’d tell her the story of the book of lost fragrances that their ancestor had found. She’d close her eyes and see the scenes play out. Her own private theater of the mind.” – Jac L’Etiole in The Book of Lost Fragrances.
Jac L’Etoile surrounds herself with facts and realism. Even her work deals with bringing the truth regarding ancient myths to light and showing that every myth has its base in reality. Jac’s family, a long line of famous French perfumers, has built their lives on the fantastical and the belief that their ancestor had discovered evidence of a scent of soul mates that could conjure up a person’s past lives. The fanatical passions and beliefs of her family has destroyed them and this, along with the terrifying hallucinations that Jac has had since childhood and which only got worse after her mother’s suicide, has caused her to escape into a world of staunch realism far from the memories and the city of Paris she once loved. But, as fate would have it, she will not be able to stay away forever.
When Jac’s brother, Robbie, who was searching for a way to save the family business after their father nearly destroyed it, goes missing along with an Egyptian artifact he believes contained traces of this secret memory tool fragrance, Jac must do whatever she can to find him. She discovers that the only man she has ever loved was working with Robbie to decipher the hieroglyphics on the pottery and she must not only work to find her brother but must also face the unresolved feels she has for Griffin. As the two continue their search they discover that others are looking for Robbie and the artifact as well, people who will do anything, even kill, to get it. This artifact is a powerful tool, one that could help the Tibetan cause to prove reincarnation, and the Chinese government will stop at nothing to keep that from happening.
As the race to find Robbie and the artifact continues, Jac cannot control the hallucinations as they get stronger and stronger. But are these hallucinations or visions of the past, ones that might help her on her current quest as well as help her to reconcile her own life?
The Book of Lost Fragrances is dense, dramatic and full of excitement. So many themes are tackled that it is hard to discuss them all in one small review. It deals with reincarnation and the Chinese government’s attempt to regulate it, with the concept of fate vs. choice and belief vs. fact, and delves into the ideas of how far someone should go for what they believe in and when they should let go. My favorite aspect of the book dealt with the theme of soul mates and the idea that these joined souls would find each other in each lifetime. It highlights love’s many faces and showcases, although not as extensively as I might have liked in some instances, some truly remarkable pairings.
This is one of those books that you want to take your time and savor. With all of the heavy themes explored it is not something to be rushed and it will likely make you think about what you believe about the topics. This is my first time reading an M.J. Rose novel and I have to say that this magical, sensory experience will ensure this is not my last.
Also by M.J. Rose: The Hypnotist
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Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Atria Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.