Saturday, May 18, 2019
Book Review: "The Scent Keeper" by Erica Bauermeister
Scents provide some of our most potent memories, our strongest sense of time and place. It could be perfume or cologne worn by someone you love, a freshly baked treat from childhood, even the smell of the air after a rainstorm. Bauermeister's beautifully told book is an illustration of a life lived through embracing one of our strongest senses.
Emmeline lives in a cabin on a remote island with her father. It's a marvelous existence for a young girlshe has an entire island to herself to explore, and she and her father live off the land, enjoying all that nature has to offer. He teaches her how to use her senses more than anything else.
During the winter things get tough as food becomes more scarce, but she loves when her father tells her fairy tales and stories. In their cabin they are surrounded by little glass bottles which contain papers that have mysterious scents on them. Her father doesn't explain where they come from, or what the machine that creates these scent papers is, but he gives her powerful advice: "People lie, Emmeline, but smells never do."
But when she discovers the truth about the island on which they live, everything starts to change, and her father becomes more and more obsessed with the scent papers stored in their cabin, to the detriment of everything else, including himself. Without warning, Emmeline is suddenly thrust into the real world, forced to interact with people other than her father, and having to experience first-hand the violence, betrayal, and pain that people cause each other, willingly and unwillingly.
"There had been a time in my life when I had felt grown-up, capable. Now I was too scared of the world outside to leave the house. I stayed in my room mostly, telling myself the stories from my father's book of fairy tales. The girl in the red cloak, running through the trees. The genie waiting in the bottle, growing more powerful with time. The children, lost in the woods with only breadcrumbs to help them. I spoke the words in my mind, as if they could tell me how to navigate this place I'd found myself in, but the best they could do was help me forget. Still, I returned to the stories, wishing for something that would never come. An ending that had already happened."
When Emmeline learns the secrets her father kept hidden from her, she is determined to find out the truth about him and her background. She finds a world far beyond any she had imagined, where she can use her sense of smell professionally, and she finally feels like she belongs. But she also confronts one of her father's most powerful pieces of advice again, "People lie, but smells never do."
At first I felt as if The Scent Keeper was similar to Delia Owens' Where the Crawdads Singa story of a young girl who is more in-step with nature than people thrust into an unfamiliar and uncomfortable world. And while there are elements of that in this story, this is also a book about the family we're born into and the family we choose, understanding whatand whomto fight for, and how our senses give us insight into human behavior we may never recognize unless we let them.
I thought this was a fascinating and beautiful book, full of gorgeously lyrical imagery (how else could Bauermeister make you understand the scents that swirled around Emmeline and the other characters) and a powerful if familiar story of love, trust, family, and our relationship with the natural world. I enjoyed reading this book immensely, even when I wanted to shake the characters for not saying what they were thinking or feeling.
This is definitely a book that made me think about the connection between scent and memory, and how when I remember certain events or people in my life, I often associate a particular smell with them. The Scent Keeper is thought-provoking and memorable.
NetGalley and St. Martin's Press provided me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!
This book will be published May 21, 2019.
I will be hosting a giveaway for this book on my Instagram page, at www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh.