The Book of Lost Fragrances by M. J. Rose ~ perfume books

The Book of Lost Fragrances by M. J. Rose

What if the primal ability to vividly remember a grandmother’s tenderness with a dollop of cold cream, or childhood summers with a handful of crushed flower stems, was just the tip of the iceberg? What if a scent had the power to spark past life memories?

In The Book of Lost Fragrances, the heir of a centuries-old French perfume house discovers an ancient perfume bottle that may have housed exactly that — and promptly vanishes with it, leaving a dead body in his wake. His sister Jac, a gifted nose plagued by scent-triggered hallucinations since her mother’s death, must face the olfactory perils of the family workshop to find clues to his whereabouts. But even as Jac dismisses the possibility of her brother's find, his trail whispers with an elusive, unnameable scent that sparks visions of ancient Egypt and the French Revolution. Jac begins to wonder if her demons might be memories after all.

The Book of Lost Fragrances, by suspense-novelist M. J. Rose, is easy to get lost in. It's a twisting, turning mystery, rich in history and international intrigue, with a love story for backbone and a dab of perfume behind the ears.

Just a dab, though. The star of the show is a fragrance that virtually everyone but Jac is anosmic to;1 other scents and perfumes are described in passing, often with just a handful of notes. It’s ultimately a good thing. Rose’s research is nicely evident, particularly in the history department, and instead of using it to spin florid language she keeps the focus on her strength: telling an intriguing story. If you can imagine combinations like bergamot and oakmoss, or call to mind church incense, you’ll follow along just fine.

The pages flew by too quickly to notice any major flubs (with one notable exception: the novel’s namesake, Cleopatra’s fabled collection of perfume recipes, doesn’t actually make an appearance). And while The Book of Lost Fragrances hasn’t earned a place on the shelf next to Patrick Süskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, it's just the ticket for easy, perfume-infused summer reading.

M. J. Rose is a bestselling author of 12 novels, and a founding member of International Thriller Writers. For The Book of Lost Fragrances, Rose spent more than two and a half years researching ancient perfume and studying with perfumers. Although she burned Joya candles while writing the book, memories of her mother's comforting Shalimar aura shaped the way the main characters relate to fragrance.

The Book of Lost Fragrances
By M. J. Rose. 416 pp.
Atria Books, 2012. $24.

 1. Though after reading the novel, Joya perfumer Frederick Bouchardy was inspired to create an homage, titled Âmes Soeurs, The Scent of Soul Mates. Its notes are listed as frankincense, myrrh, orange blossom and jasmine. It is theoretically available now at Henri Bendel in New York City; do comment if you've smelled it.

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26 Comments

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  1. RusticDove says:

    Thanks for the review. I think this will be the perfect beach read to take along on our vacation at the Outer Banks this July!

    • Aleta says:

      Good plan! I read it at the beach in Florida and it was so much fun.

  2. lucasai says:

    Nice to meet you, Aleta! A nice review that is. I would happily read The Book of Lost Fragrances if it was available in my native, polish language. But unfortunately books like that never get translated here…

    • Aleta says:

      Sorry about that. Have you read Perfume: The Story of a Murderer yet? I think that one was translated into quite a few languages….

      • lucasai says:

        Yes I did and I really like it. I think I’ll read it again in the summertime, when I’ll be freed from my university work.

  3. Nile Goddess says:

    Hmmm I’m not supposed to be reading it as my better half ordered it for my upcoming B-day … but I pretended not to know that (should be a surprise after all) and read it anyway ;-)

    Good job Aleta, enough to intrigue but not really a spoiler :-D

    • Aleta says:

      Thank you! It’s definitely tricky to work in details without giving it away :)

  4. poodle says:

    Sounds like a good summer read. Thanks for the review.

    • Aleta says:

      Thank you for reading :)

  5. Haunani says:

    Yes, thanks for the review! The book sounds like great fun!

    • Haunani says:

      And less than a minute later, it’s on my Kindle! Gotta love technology. :-)

      • RusticDove says:

        You didn’t waste any time Haunani!

      • Aleta says:

        Kindle definitely has instant gratification going for it. Now if only there was such a thing for perfume….

  6. Alyssa says:

    Welcome aboard, Aleta! Thanks for this thoughtful review. I’ve got a copy on my nightstand right now and am looking forward to the unbroken time of an upcoming plane flight to really dive in.

    • Aleta says:

      Nice! I hope the book makes the time fly by :-P

  7. hajusuuri says:

    Great review, Aleta. This was recent read for me and I also enjoyed it. It took me back to Paris. The last time I was there was in the fall of 2002 and I visited Musee de l’Orangerie but did not make it to the more cryptlc places (pun intended). If there’s one criticism, I would have liked to have seen more character development.

  8. nozknoz says:

    Aleta, I’m looking forward to some quiet time to read this intriguing book, and to your future reviews!

    I have a tiny sample of the Joya perfume – the link was in Octavian’s post on this book at 1000 Fragrances. I haven’t really tested it yet since I want to sniff it while reading the book. Dabbing on a tiny bit now…. It’s an oil, and it does reflect those natural ingredients. It’s ery different from any widely available contemporary perfumes and would serve to give readers a taste of what ancient perfume may have been like. Reminds me a bit of the background of Homage Attar, i.e., without the rose and oud.

  9. armellide says:

    I must say that I found the book to be quite dreadful. A bitter disappointment.

  10. Filomena says:

    This is the first I’ve known about this book, although I have at least 10 perfume books in my possession, all of which I have read at one time or another. However, I would like to relate an unusual perfume experience I had tonight with a man I’ve known (although not that well) for at least 20 plus years but at different stages of his life. Somehow we got into perfume speak because although I was with another girlfriend of mine, this male acquaintance was involved in our rapport and conversation. It ended that all (3 of us) came back to my place to look at my perfume collection. They were completely flabbergasted. Being the good sport that I am, I picked up my bottle of Lubin Idole EDP and sprayed a little on both of them. Then somehow my vintage bottle of Guerlain Guet-Apens joined the mix and the male friend pulled out the beautiful glass stopper (thinking that he could spray it) and lots of it disappeared into my carpet. However, quite a bit was on me (and I suppose on him also although I did not check it out). The bottom line is that I smell marvelous with the combined fragrances of Lubin Idole EDP and Vintage Guerlain Guet-Apens. Also I think the man and I liked each other more than we ever realized. Aah the power of the sense of smell–we don’t respect it quite enough but I do believe it is truly in our lives each and every day.

    • nozknoz says:

      Filomena, you could write a book yourself, I think! And if he can still charm you after spilling discontinued Guet-Apens, there is truly something there.

      • Filomena says:

        Nozknoz,
        Luckily there is still a lot of Guet-Apens left in the bottle. My bedroom still smelled beautiful this morning!

  11. ladymurasaki says:

    Thanks for the review, Aleta. I am looking forward to reading this interesting book.

  12. amarie121 says:

    Forget the book, I want to know what happens with Filomina’s friend! What a sweet story.:-)

  13. Filomena says:

    amarie121, the man friend was more intrigued by my collection than the woman friend. He has been texting me (and he probably still smells of Guet-Apens). I will keep you posted!

  14. RavynG says:

    I read the book yesterday. From start to finish in about 10 hours. It was amazing! I loved it! Anyone remember Avon’s Blue Lotus from the late 50′s early 60′s? It was always one of my favorites of my mother’s. I never hear about it, the book reminded me.

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