If you love Spain and all things Spanish, then this is definitely a novel for you! We were enchanted by the style that pulls the reader in and the wonderful evocations of Valencia both during and post Spanish Civil War and in the modern day.
Emma has just lost her Mother, Liberty, the founder of Liberty Temple perfumes. Emma has taken over the enterprise with now ex Joe, who has been ensnared by the third business partner Lila. A novel with depth, that explores relationships, life and family both present day and issues of legacy from past generations. It also brings the horrors of the Spanish Civil War to life. The chapters alternate between The Civil War Years and the early 2000s as Emma abandons her life as a perfumer, and settles in Valencia to search out her roots and her history.
Valencia is the "land of flowers, light and love" which is a perfect backdrop for a character like Emma to explore her story. The novel is very sensory, you can feel the flowery notes as she dabbles and combines natural fragrances... neroli.... orange blossom.. and more....
If you know the city well, this novel will transport you right back there, as the plot moves from Emma's newly restored finca, to the Torres de Quart or across the Plaza Mayor or the Plaza del Ayuntamento. Enjoy a chocolate con churros, roscón de reyes cake or let your taste buds savour the full flavours of paella as the characters enjoy the cripsy layer of socarrat at the bottom of the pan; perhaps go on to enjoy a natillas pudding.
The ending was perhaps the weakest part of the novel - a fireworks ending that somehow jarred with the thoughtful writing in the rest of the book.
on 11 January 2014
Set in Spain during the civil war of the 1930's, The Perfume Garden travels between Valencia then and now. Perfumier Emma decides to leave her home in London after her divorce and settle in a house in Valencia owned by her late mother. There, she meets Luca and unravels details of the houses past occupants and ties with her family members.
This book took a little while to get into and I couldn't quite grasp who was who during the beginning, so the first chapter or two dragged a bit for me, but after learning more about the characters and their part in the story, it became quite involving. As Gerda and Capa were real people and events true to life, their story took on special significance.
I knew virtually nothing about the Spanish Civil War, let alone the fact that people from other countries were willing to give their lives to save Spain from the Nationalists, so for this reason, and Kate Lord Brown's excellent and vivid depictions of the war and its consequences, I bumped my rating up a star. However, I then decreased it again for the ending of the book, which seemed to have no real relevance to the rest of the story and felt like it belonged in a crime novel.
The Perfume Garden didn't quite reach Victoria Hislop's level of superb characters and scenes for me, but was enjoyable nonetheless, and I'll certainly be keen to read Kate Lord Browns future work.
on 27 June 2013
When Emma's mum, Liberty, dies, she leaves a series of letters to her daughter, and a key to a crumbled villa in Spain. Leaving her job as a leading perfumier in London, Emma leaves and heads to sunny Spain. Heavy with grief after losing not only her mother but her ex-partner and father to her unborn baby, Joe, it's a balm for Emma's soul. For her, it's a place she can retreat and refocus. But for her grandmother, Freya, it serves only as a horrible reminder of her time in Spain during the civil war - a place and time she never wants to revisit.
What I loved about this, was the almost heady sense of description. Right from the very first page, the scene was set so perfectly, I was instantly transported to 1930's Spain and having a main character whose job is to create sublime scents only added to its allure. In fact, it was so good that I wondered rather sceptically about whether it would be sustained throughout the book. I'm pleased to say it was.
The story follows two timelines. One modern day, where we meet Emma in September 2011, and the other during the Spanish civil war. The dual timelines worked well with the heavy descriptions to keep the story fresh but I did feel that sometimes the chapters were a little too short. While the constant switching served as a great pacemaker in the lead up to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 for example, there were other times when I wanted to stay in one place just a little longer.
Because of this, I found it difficult to connect with any one character, and there were quite a few. I admit to being confused for the first few chapters about who was who, which wasn't helped at times by the dual timelines. That being said, once I got into the rhythm of the pace and set up, they began to stick. Every character was different and believeable, and Freya, in particular turned out to be the one I liked the most. The addition of Liberty's letters was a nice touch, and turned her into an actual character, despite her being dead from the outset.
Because of the sometimes confusing timelines and characters, The Perfume Garden isn't a book I flew through quickly, but then, I didn't really want to. If I had it my way, I'd have read it by a pool somewhere hot, because it's stories like these that I like to luxuriate over. If you're a fan of books by authors like Kate Mosse and Kate Furnivall, you'll love this.
Emma Temple is coming to terms with the fact that she is expecting a baby with her long-time love Joe, yet they are no longer together. Joe has been having an affair with Delilah, a friend from his past who is also the third partner in the highly successful perfumery business they all run together, which was established by Emma's beloved late mother, Liberty Temple. Emma is introduced to us in autumn of 2001, alongside her close relatives; Grandmother Freya and her Great-Uncle Charles. Emma is trying to accept that things seem to be over with Joe, yet she must tell him about the baby. He is away on business in New York with Delilah. In another strand to the narrative, it is 1936 and Charles, along with his friend Hugo, has arrived in Spain leaving behind their studies in Cambridge to photograph, report on and support the struggles of the International Brigades in Spain, fighting Franco's forces in the bitter civil war. We are also introduced to a young Spanish couple, Jordi and Rosa, and to a certain photographer by the name of Robert Capa.
I am always interested in fiction that deals with the Spanish Civil War, and soon after starting to read, I found myself getting carried off into this story, first entranced by the young photographer capturing a famous image of a falling soldier, then swept into the passion and pain of the struggle of the people supporting what they believed in and fighting as their country was torn apart. The young English nurse, facing the terrible tragedies playing out every day, in such close proximity to death, and her brother, capturing the images of war.
The modern day story involving Emma parallels the historical narrative; it is one of pain and loss, too, and of her trying to find a way forward and a new start. As Emma takes steps towards a new future for herself, heading to Valencia with the key that was left to her amongst her mothers letters, she finds an old, neglected villa, and a new freedom in her life, breaking out of the recent difficult times: 'In Spain, Emma felt like she was coming out of hibernation.' At the same time she opens up the door to the past within her family, uncovering secrets from the time her grandmother Freya spent in Spain during the civil war as a nurse. For Freya, and for her brother Charles, the painful memories from their days spent in Spain are difficult to deal with to this day, and as Emma learns more about Freya's past, she begins to understand why.
I found the storyline gripping, with short chapters taking us back and forth in time from Emma's days in modern-day Spain to the depths of the tragic civil war. I was easily tempted to read just one more chapter to discover what had happened in the other strand of the story and I was absorbed by this depiction of a family who, through the generations, had found and lost love.
The descriptions of Spain, the sights and sounds, the people and traditions, are very evocative and vivid, enabling me to picture the scenes, to imagine the aromas. I feel that Kate Lord Brown writes with an evident passion about her subjects here, and this enthusiasm and convincing depiction of events drew me further into the lives of the characters and their stories, and I cared about them and their romantic relationships and friendships.
This is a beautiful novel about love and separation, war and idealism, secrets and memories, about the terrible tragedies of wartime that leave mental scars and the hope and optimism that a new start and a new home can bring. Fragrance is a key theme in the story, the idea of it evoking memories. The storytelling in this novel has been compared to that of Kate Morton and I feel that this is an accurate comparison; a dual time frame story that is handled well, with themes of love, family history and secrets; this all combines to make The Perfume Garden a very involving, vivid, romantic and moving read to lose yourself in.
on 5 August 2013
I did not know much about the Spanish civil war. This story showed once again the horrors of war and human sacrifices made.
The story line is plausible and well written. It's detail is clear and easily pictured. I could even smell the perfume against the back drop of the Spanish scenery.
Even though the story is set in the 1930`s and 2011, it runs smoothly and makes it a good 'read. All the characters and their stories come together.
on 4 January 2014
I am British but I live in Southern Spain and often wonder why the Spanish are the way they are and so different to us but now, having read The Perfume Garden, I understand so much more. The story explains that during the Spanish Civil War of the nineteen thirties families, friends and neighbours were often torn apart because they often supported different regimes and the consequence was that they were no longer able to trust each other, literally for fear of their lives. On the other hand our involvement in the Second World War, when we fought as one country against others, British people were brought closer together with a great sense of union and common cause.
During their civil war the pain and anguish suffered by the Spanish people throughout the land was horrific but Kate Lord Brown describes the terrible cruelty shown to those who stood loyal to their own beliefs while others close by persecuted them with intensity and sensitivity. I live in the village of Mijas, close to Malaga and the description of the exodus of people from the city of Malaga literally brought goose bumps as I realised that many of the elderly in their eighties and nineties who live here still would have been children at the time. No wonder they are different and their children and grandchildren have different values and that family is paramount to them now whereas many British seem to have lost that bond.
Kate cleverly weaves between the nineteen thirties and the early 21st century without ever losing the thread of her story or the attention of her readers and even manages to interweave a comprehensive description of the perfume industry into her story.
If you live in Spain this book is enlightening and if you are going there on holiday it would be a very interesting and entertaining book to take with you.
on 6 October 2013
Great book very like Kate Morton style. Fascinating from start to finish. Would like to read more of her books.
on 3 October 2014
This novel is trying to do too much in its telling of an historic and a modern story. The parts concerning the both Spanish and international combatants in the Spanish civil war start to be gripping but then get cut short to return to the modern story. This story of a young woman twice bereaved and trying to build a new life is undermined by turning it into a "feel good" romance. The unveiling of the past and present stories through each other begins convincingly but ultimately knowing the outcome for the older characters destroys any tension. The novel deals with the terrible atrocities of war and if you have no knowledge of this particular conflict it may be enlightening. But those horrors deserve better than to be turned into a platform for a soppy love story. It might have been 4 stars for the historic story - but the conclusion is such a silly attempt at bringing in a dramatic twist that it leaves a sour taste. There is too much going on here both in story line and literary devices (letters from a dead mother conveniently opened to move along the plot??) - if the writer had just dealt with love and loss through the war it would have been stronger.
on 7 November 2014
It took me quite a long time to work my way through this book. I didn't care for it too much, to be honest. I usually love this kind of duel time-frame novel (Kate Morton comes to mind), however this one failed to deliver. The part about the Spanish Civil War was quite interesting and prompted me to research the war photographer Robert Capa and his lover Gerda. I love any book that's based on real life characters or events. Sadly, that part of the story wasn't fully developed and in the end the whole thing turned into a silly soap opera. The ending was particularly ridiculous. This was the first book I'd ever read by this author and I'm willing to give her another chance. I've just downloaded The Beauty Chorus and I'm hoping it will be more deserving of the five-star reviews.
The Spanish Civil War has captured popular and literary novelists' imaginations in recent years, with works ranging from Victoria Hislop's 'The Return' to Andromeda Romano-Lax's 'The Spanish Bow'. Lord Brown's novel is very much along the same lines as Hislop's, though with more focus on the present-day story, and a larger cast of principal characters, including the real-life photographer Robert Capa and his partner Gerda. As with so many of today's popular historical novels, the book moves between a present-day and a Spanish civil war narrative. In the 1930s, Freya Temple travels out to Spain to work as a nurse for the Republicans, while her brother Charles joins the International Brigade, where he befriends photographer Robert Capa and falls in love with Capa's partner Gerda Taro. In the course of her nursing work, Freya is billeted to stay at a house in Valencia owned by the bullying butcher Vicente - she befriends his unhappy wife Rosa (a former flamenco dancer and muse to Federico Garcia Lorca) and tries to help Rosa find her former lover Jordi (Vicente's brother), fighting with the Republicans. And eventually she is called upon to perform an act of great nobility for Rosa... Freya's story runs alongside that of her granddaughter Emma Temple, a wealthy perfumier, getting over the death of her mother Liberty (the founder of the perfume business) and her cheating ex-partner Joe, who was killed on 9/11. When Emma discovers that Liberty's left her a house outside Valencia, she travels there, and soon feels very at home - particularly as a handsome local called Luca makes it clear he's interested in her. But can Emma totally remake her life - particularly with Joe's vengeful wife Delilah (who he married after his split with Emma) still at large? Can Luca take on Emma - and Joe's child into the bargain? (No spoiler, we know Emma's pregnant by about Chapter Five). And why is Freya so uncomfortable about what Emma may discover in Spain? As the novel progresses, we realise that Freya and Charles have some serious secrets related to Emma's new home - secrets that may change the course of all their lives..
This was a very readable book in many ways. The Spanish Civil War scenes felt very real, and it was an interesting touch to put the real-life figures of Robert Capa and Gerda alongside the fictional characters. The descriptions of Spain were beautiful if a little idealised, and I felt Lord Brown conveyed Emma's need to remake her life rather well. The plot was not entirely credible in my view (Why did Jordi leave Rosa with Vicente when his brother was right-wing? Why wasn't Emma angrier with Joe for cheating on her? Would a pregnant woman really set up camp in a near-derelict house, and would the builders have really repaired it so fast?) but it was surprisingly gripping - and the material on making perfume was interesting. But for me, the novel fell into the trap of being both too sentimental and too melodramatic. Vicente (and what happened to him) was almost like a pantomime - I wanted to shout 'he's behind you!' whenever he turned up, and the usual Spanish stereotypes - flamenco dancers full of 'duende' (passion), bullfighters etc - featured rather too prominently. Liberty's letters of advice to her daughter read like a very sentimental self-help book (and having read a couple of those ten years ago when very depressed, I have to say they don't cheer you up at all!), and Emma's 'chat' with the dead Joe was like something out of a Hollywood film. Like other reviewers, I found it hard initially to warm to the modern characters, and found Emma and Joe's lifestyle, with their 'perfect flat' with its Damian Hirst paintings irritating - though Lord Brown could have been making the point that Emma was trying to find a simpler way of living in Spain. And though I felt the links between the present and past stories were effective and worked well, the final scenes with the evil Delilah (as pantomimic in her way as Vicente) were like something out of a rather bad thriller - and meant that the book came to a very abrupt stop. There were also some silly errors of fact that could have been corrected: chief among them calling Capa an American (he was in fact Hungarian). Also, how common a name was Freya in the 1920s/30s?
Not a book I could take as seriously as I think the subject demanded, then. But at the same time, it passed the time very pleasantly over a few spare hours on a busy weekend, and I did get some pleasure from it. Recommended for a light switch-off read with a bit of interesting historical background.