Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Monday 20 May 2013

The Perfume Garden - Kate Lord Brown

'Some people's memories lie in images or songs, but for Emma it was always fragrance.'

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. 

Published by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books

Thank you to the author, the publisher and to Amy at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this novel.

Visit my blog again tomorrow to read a lovely guest post by author Kate Lord Brown!

Exciting news! 

Kate Lord Brown has written a short prequel to The Perfume GardenTHE LAST ROSE OF SUMMER, and you can download it for free from today for a limited time, as a taster for The Perfume Garden - here are the links:  

About the author

Kate Lord Brown 1Kate grew up in the wild and beautiful Devon countryside. After studying philosophy at Durham University and art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, she worked as an international art consultant, curating collections for embassies and palaces in Europe and the Middle East. She is married to a pilot, and lives with her family in Qatar. Her debut novel ‘The Beauty Chorus’ was inspired by the many hours she spent on airfields in the UK, and the experiences of pilots in her family during WW2. Her second novel about the Spanish Civil War, ‘The Perfume Garden’, draws upon the years she lived in Spain, and will be published in paperback in April 2013 by Atlantic.

For more information please visit Kate’s website and blog. You can also find her on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest. You can also check out the Facebook and Pinterest page for The Perfume Garden.


  1. I'm reading this at the moment, my stop on the tour is Thursday. Although I do like it, I think you liked it much more than me!

    1. I hope you enjoyed this one too Sam, off to read your review.

  2. This sounds like a great read...I love books that can easily slip back and forth between two periods and tell two that cover is so lovely!

    1. Thanks for your comment Melissa. It's a pretty cover isn't it. I like books with that structure a lot.

  3. Thank you for hosting and reviewing, Lindsay!

    1. My pleasure, Kate, thank you for commenting!


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