2017 Reviews · historical fiction

Book Review: The French Perfumer by Amanda Hampson

Title: The French Perfumerfrench perfumer

Author:  Amanda Hampson

Published: February 27th 2017

Publisher: Penguin Random House Australia

Pages: 221

Genres:  Fiction, Historical

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 3.5 stars

‘Shorthand typist required by English speaker in the South of France. Live-in, full board plus salary commensurate with experience.’

Iris Turner, an unworldly young Englishwoman, arrives in the French Riviera to take up a secretarial role for the mysterious Hammond Brooke. Living in a small, exclusive hotel among eccentric and unpredictable aristocrats and struggling to gain her employer’s trust, she soon realises that nothing is as it seems.

Initiated into the mysterious world of perfume, she finds herself entangled in a web of intrigue and deception. Gradually discovering the truth, she gains a new understanding of the meaning of love, loyalty and betrayal.

By the bestselling author of The Olive Sisters, this is a captivating and evocative novel full of surprising twists and turns.

My review:

Amanda Hampson, author of ‘The Olive Sisters’, takes us on a great escape to the beautiful French Riviera region. This historical novel, set in the post world war II era of the 1950’s, is Hampson’s latest release and it comes with a beautiful book title, The French Perfumer.

The book opens as Iris Turner, a rather naive typist, accepts a secretarial based post in the south of France. We learn that Iris longs to escape the clutches of dreary London and is happy to embark on exciting assignment in the luxurious French Riviera. She is to work for a mysterious man named Hammond Brooke, who after gaining his trust, offers her an insight into the glamorous world of perfume production. What seems like both an interesting and easy job to begin with, immerses Iris in a tangled mess of lies and deception. With the villa in which she is residing running into disrepair, Iris is also dismayed to find some of the occupants of the villa hostile towards her. The experience gives Iris first hand experience in the art of perfumery, as well as some life lessons in betrayal and love.

The first aspect that drew me to The French Perfumer was the sheer physical attractiveness of this book. The cover art design is simply gorgeous and reflects the beauty of the region in which the book is set. These gorgeous designs also extend further into the inside of the front and back covers of the book. Interspersed between the pages of The French Perfumer are illustrated chapter beginnings that enticed me further into this book.

The French Perfumer is a book that exudes a timeless quality. It takes a nostalgic step back in time to the 1950’s. Hampson has done her homework on this era and location. I very much appreciated the references to Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, who were two defining figures of this period. The stunning south of France setting is depicted well by Hampson. I have been fortunate to visit this region in the past and it was a joy to be taken back to this picturesque part of the world again by Hampson’s descriptive prose.

The French Perfumer is a book that focuses on the trade of perfumery. We are given the opportunity to learn about this fascinating business through Hammond Brooke, Iris’ employer. The perfume industry sections were especially enlightening. I thought this was an area Hampson displayed a real fair for and she was able to transfer her understanding of this art to the page with ease. I felt a strong sensory overload while reading these perfumery sections, which I rather enjoyed!

The character’s that fill Hampson’s novel are complicated and interesting ones to deconstruct. Iris is the only character who is both pure and clear cut. Her interaction with the other occupants of the villa offers moments of deception and intrigue. I also found the rather eclectic mix of protagonists in the book to be shrouded in an air of mistrust and uncertainly. However, what is obvious is that these characters are haunted by their past, with the war playing a huge in part shaping their motivations.

The French Perfumer is a book that contains a good dose of mystery and ambiguity. In the end it is hard not to feel pity for the protagonists of this novel, as their experiences from the war have clearly warped who they became later in life. Although The French Perfumer did have a few twists and turns, I experienced some issues with the pace of the novel, it was a little off kilter for me. As a result, this book didn’t quite speak as strongly to me as I would have liked.

Historical fiction lovers will be sure to appreciate this release from Amanda Hampson. The French Perfumer is a novel that looks at the after effects of war and the experiences that shape who people become, following such a life changing event. It offers poignant insight into life in the post world war II period, in a location that was heavily touched by war. The overlay of perfume production gives this book another beautiful layer to explore and enjoy.

The French Perfumer, by Amanda Hampson was published in February 2017 by Penguin Random House Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of  The French Perfumer, Amanda Hampson, visit here.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The French Perfumer by Amanda Hampson

  1. I’m becoming quite interested of late in novels set post WWII in Europe and/or the UK. Those after-effects on the human psyche make for very good material in the right hands. This is the second good review on this novel, may add it in for myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Theresa. The French Perfumer features a very interesting setting (beautiful South of France) and a fascinating time period that is covered well by Hampson. It also offers a good study of the human condition at the time post WW II. My experience and review is (mostly) positive. I had some trouble with the pacing of the novel, but it could just be my response/reading of the novel. I’m keen to know what you think!

      Liked by 1 person

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