Sunday, 4 April 2021

Scent by Isabel Costello @isabelcostello #Scent @MuswellPress @Brownlee_Donald #Paris #Perfume #BookReview


When Clementine and Edouard's last child leaves home, the cracks in their marriage become impossible to ignore. Her work as a perfumer is no longer providing solace and her sense of self is withering. Then, her former lover resurfaces, decades after the end of their bisexual affair, and her world tilts irreversibly. 

Set in Paris and Provence, this is an intimate portrait of a woman navigating conflicting desires and a troubled past whilst dreaming of a fulfilling future.

Scent by Isabel Costello was published in paperback by Muswell Press on 1 April 2021. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

Clémentine Dujardin and her husband of twenty-five years, Édouard, live in a balconied apartment overlooking the streets of Paris. Whilst their lives appear to be full of beauty; from the glamour of parties, to the elegance of Clémentine's bespoke perfumery, it is clear that there is no passion between them. One could assume that the departure of their grown up children has created the emptiness that divides them, and Isabel certainly misses both Appolline who is currently travelling in Australia, and Bastien who is living in an apartment in another part of Paris.

However, it becomes clear that theirs is not a loving relationship that has faded with time, but a marriage that has never featured love, or passion. Both Clémentine and Édouard are self-centred, battling with life in general. Dealing with disharmony within the family, and also exterior pressures created by their careers. It feels as though they never talk, and have never talked, yet they really do need to.

Scent is complex story, and the author takes the reader back to the early 1990s, when Clémentine was a young women on the brink of life. Young Clémentine is a totally different person to how she is in middle-age. Living in the country, maintaining a difficult relationship with her damaged mother, she embarks upon a passionate love affair that will change her, but ultimately destroy her future happiness.

As the reader discovers more about Clémentine's past, it becomes easier to understand her present. I can't say that I ever warmed to her though; there were times when she seemed to revel in her unhappiness, not prepared to make changes, or to be honest, with herself, or with her husband.

When a face from that never-forgotten past arrives in Paris, Clémentine is forced to face up to what she is, and what she wants. She faces difficult challenges, but not always with bravery, often trying to fool herself with her own denials. 

There are two sentences within this story, that for me, really sum up Clémentine's life:

'We have to tell ourselves all kinds of stories to live with lost loves and disappointed hopes. Not all of them are true.

'The perfect life is one of the biggest myths going.

There are some incredibly touching passages within this story of flawed relationships. However it is the author's beautiful portrayal of Paris and the French way of life that really won me over. Whilst reading it, I almost felt French. Her descriptions of places, the sounds, the smells, the people are exquisite and really quite perfect. 

This is a novel of passion lived and then lost. It is candidly painfully beautiful in places, although the characters can be frustrating and selfish in others. 

Isabel Costello’s first novel, Paris Mon Amour, was published to great acclaim in 2016 and her short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. 

She has run the Literary Sofa blog since 2011 and co-founded the Resilience for Writers project.

Twitter @isabelcostello

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