Structurally speaking, The Perfume Lover is an interesting non-fiction concept. Denyse Beaulieu, a well-known fragrance blogger and journalist living in Paris, is the eponymous lover. She is a lover, nay a connoisseur, of perfume, but throughout the book we are treated to juicy snippets about her more private sensual loves, which she writes about with typical Parisian insouciance.
The spine of the story is Beaulieu’s pursuit of a scent that will represent a night of significant sensual memory: an encounter with a man during a religious festival in Seville. Her partner in crime is Bertrand Duchaufour, a cutting-edge perfumier. He works with her to create a scent that will represent all the facets of that night, from the orange blossom in the trees and the incense trailing the street procession, down to the leather of her lover’s jacket and the tobacco on his breath. Her ambition is to create a scent that makes her want to ‘say a prayer and get my knickers ripped off, at the same time.’
Beaulieu’s visits to Duchaufour and her reviews of his latest ‘mods’ are interspersed with scent-driven stories about her life and many anecdotes and facts about the history of wearing and creating scent. These stories make for fascinating reading, but they also serve the purpose of breaking up the technical discussions about chemicals and the science of combining them, which may get a bit much for the average reader. Having said that, it soon becomes obvious why Beaulieu is famous for her fragrance blogging. She has an incredible talent for articulating what something smells like, given only words on a page and the reader’s imagination. A talent that will have some readers racing to their nearest fragrance counter to test her words on their flesh for themselves.