Lead Review

  • Book: Scent
  • Location: Paris, Provence, The Latin Quarter (5/6 ème)
  • Author: Isabel Costello

Review Author: Tina Hartas



“Le parfum, c’est l’émotion”

Clémentine lives in the 6ème arrondissement in Paris and she runs a scent shop – Arôme de Clémentine – where she crafts her own individual perfumes for her clients. At home she lives with her husband Edouard but theirs is not a happy marriage. She seems down-trodden and he seems pre-occupied with work and extra marital affairs. He is dismissive of her and of her boutique and it becomes clear that the balance of power in their relationship is skewed and certainly has an effect on her emotional well-being. Things between them are now coming into stark relief as their son has just recently left home; the father/son relationship is in poor shape. And of course they are living in the city of love which further poignantly heightens the lack of connection the two have.

Clémentine happens to pop into an antique store, lured by the sight of an old perfume case. As she rummages around in it, she finds a letter which she pops into her pocket. Her misdeed preys on her mind and she returns several times to the shop and finds herself engaging with Frédéric, the owner. He is a diversion from her weighty personal life.

Back in Provence in 1992 Clémentine was living with her mother, trying to help her out. But their relationship, too, was tricky and, in order to while away the days, she discovers the friendship of their neighbour’s son (Ludo) – the two families aren’t on speaking terms, so it feels they are on a hiding to nothing. He brings Racha into the mix and all too soon he is levered out of the equation, the women only have eyes for each other. Forward to present day Paris and Racha unexpectedly arrives in the city and compounds Clémentine’s wobbly emotional state. Clémentine has to manage her presence afresh and come to terms with what happened – how can one assimilate experiences in the past into present day life? Who was Clémentine then, who is she now? She seems to have lost her sense of self…..

This is quite an intimate portrait of a floundering marriage, where Edouard is emotionally and often times physically absent. The novel is about perfume and the wonderful fragrances do lift off the page. Paris, too, is a poignant backdrop to the failing marriage.

It is vivid storytelling from an accomplished writer that will transport you to France.

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A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

2,500 word maximum, 750 word minimum

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Prizes total £1,750 / US$2,362 

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