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BOOK REVIEW: The Perfume Garden by Kate Lord Brown

Monday, June 17, 2013

: The Perfume Garden
Author: Kate Lord Brown
Publisher: Atlantic
Age Group & Genre: Contemporary/Historical Novel for Adults

The Blurb
The Perfume Garden combines the gripping storytelling of Kate Morton with the evocative settings of Victoria Hislop to tell this sumptuous story of lost love and family secrets set between modern day Valencia and the Spanish Civil War. 

High in the hills of Valencia, a forgotten house guards its secrets. Untouched since Franco's forces tore through Spain in 1936, the whitewashed walls have crumbled, the garden, laden with orange blossom, grown wild. Emma Temple is the first to unlock its doors in seventy years. Guided by a series of letters and a key bequeathed in her mother's will, she has left her job as London's leading perfumier to restore this dilapidated villa to its former glory. It is the perfect retreat: a wilderness redolent with strange and exotic scents, heavy with the colours and sounds of a foreign time. 

But for her grandmother, Freya, a British nurse who stayed here during Spain's devastating civil war, Emma's new home evokes terrible memories. As the house begins to give up its secrets, Emma is drawn deeper into Freya's story: one of crushed idealism, lost love, and families ripped apart by war. She soon realises it is one thing letting go of the past, but another when it won't let go of you.

What I Thought: 
A young woman inherits an old house in Spain, discovers clues to buried family secrets, meets a gorgeous Spaniard, and finds her true path in life ... interposed with flashbacks to her grandmother's work during the bloody and turbulent Spanish Civil War as a nurse ... this book is exactly the sort of book I love to read the most. And I did love it!

THE PERFUME GARDEN switches between two timelines. The first is set in contemporary times – soon after 9/11 – and deals with Emma’s grief and attempt to rebuild her life after the loss of her lover. The second is set during the Spanish Civil War and tells the story of Emma’s grandmother Freya, her brother Charles and a beautiful Spaniard Rosa. 

Both storylines are strong, the setting is wonderfully romantic and evocative, and Emma’s job as a perfumier adds an extra frisson of sensuous interest.

The Spanish Civil War was a bloody disaster, in all sense of the word, and these sections were sometimes heart-wrenching. I have always been fascinated by this period of history, and THE PERFUME GARDEN does any extraordinary job of bringing it to life. 

As for the house in Valencia and its old perfumed garden … well, all I can say is: I WANT! 

Afternote: (I should add here that my novel FULL FATHOM FIVE (written in my 20s and published under my maiden name Kate Humphrey) also drew upon the history of the Spanish Civil War, and so its a period I have researched thoroughly.)

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