May 24, 2019
The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister
Welcome to my stop on The Scent Keeper Blog Tour sponsored by St Martins Press. Thanks to Clare Maurer at St Martins for the invitation! Thanks to #NetGalley #StMartinsPress for a free digital copy of #TheScentKeeper in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. *This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
Genre/Categories: Fiction, Coming of Age, Family Life, Magical Realism
Emmeline lives on a small isolated and remote island with her father. They function as survivalists by foraging and growing their own food. Even though Emmeline and her father are isolated, the father has a contact who arrives by boat and occasionally delivers items that can’t be acquired on the island. Emmeline’s father teaches her about the natural world through her senses. Emmeline’s world is filled with love and security and it’s all she knows. Her father also has a mysterious machine that creates or captures scents (similar to a Polaroid camera), and he has scents stored in drawers that line the walls of their cabin. Although she’s curious about the scents, her father doesn’t offer a great deal of explanation. One day, Emmeline is forced out into the real world beyond the sanctuary of her island. She sets out on a quest to understand the life her father created for them, her father’s reasons, and the secrets he safeguarded.
What constitutes a memorable read for you?
If you love Where the Crawdads Sing for the setting descriptions, you might appreciate The Scent Keeper in which the northern isolated island setting is like a character in the story. The descriptions are exquisite and readers are transported there.
I don’t remember arriving on the island myself; I was too young. I only remember living there. I remember the paths that wandered through those watchful trees, the odor of the dirt beneath our feet, as dark and complicated as fairy tales. I remember our one-room cabin, the big chair by the woodstove, and our collection of stories and science books. I remember the smell of wood smoke and pine pitch in my father’s beard as he read to me at night, and the ghostly aroma of the runaway’s pipe tobacco, an olfactory reminder that had sunk into the walls and never quite disappeared. I remember the way the rain seemed to talk to the roof as I fell asleep, and how the fire would snap and tell it to be quiet.
If determination, courage, thoughtfulness, loyalty, and compassion are traits that you admire in characters, then you might love Emmeline. Reminiscent of the main character in stories such as Where the Crawdads Sing, The Great Alone, The Glass Castle, or Educated, Emmeline is resilient, relentless, and fearless as she grapples with the truth of her father’s actions and reconciles his love for her with his choices to protect her. Throughout the story, I cared for Emmeline and what happened to her.
The use of SCENT to move the story along is unique and something to which we can all make connections. Scent is a compelling part of the entire story: scent is an important part of Emmeline’s childhood, and then she eventually finds work in the perfume industry. I found the discussion and descriptions of scent fascinating and it reminds me of a book from a few years ago, The Perfume Collector.
While reading The Scent Keeper, I spent a considerable amount of time pondering and noticing scents! Scents from childhood are particularly memorable. Then there are scents that belong to certain seasons or occasions. The scent of lilac transports me immediately back to my childhood on a South Dakota farm where I played for hours and hours beneath and around our huge lilac bush growing in the front yard. What scents are memorable and magical for you?
If you appreciate writing that is multi-layered, you will find The Scent Keeper stimulating. I love writing which allows me to create my own meaning! I can’t know if this was the author’s intent or not, but I kept thinking of the SCENTS that the father was so desperate to capture and save as a symbol for memories. He stressed the idea of creating them, keeping them safe, the preciousness of them, and taking them out with the utmost of care to relive or experience them again. The beginning of the story is rich in symbolism and metaphor (with a sprinkling of magical realism), and the latter half of the story moves into a more literal and realistic realm.
The trajectory of the story reminds me of the journey from childhood to young adulthood. As children, we completely trust our parents and they are our whole world, the source of our truth, safety, and comfort. As we become young adults, we see that our parents might not be perfect, they might have flaws or secrets, and their choices might seem questionable. As young adults and adults, we see the reality of the world might not be congruent with the magical innocence of childhood and the safe world our parents created. We can finally see our parents as flawed people doing the best that they could.
Perhaps, like me, you’re enamored with important themes presented throughout a story. The Scent Keeper doesn’t disappoint! Thought-provoking themes include father/daughter relationships, loyalty, trust, sacrifice, secrets, and coming of age. All these themes make for great book club discussion!
I can assure you that The Scent Keeper ticks all the boxes for a wonderful and memorable reading experience for me. It is written beautifully with lyrical prose, delightful imagery, vivid details, and creative figurative language; it’s a coming of age tale of a spirited and resourceful young woman; it describes a unique setting; it explores important themes, and it features a unique premise.
The following observation falls under personal preference: I think the one weakness is that this engaging and beautifully told story deserves a more satisfactory conclusion (however, other reviewers have disagreed with me!). This explains why I didn’t give five full stars.
Nevertheless, I fully recommend The Scent Keeper for fans of contemporary literary fiction, for readers who appreciate beautiful prose, and for book clubs.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars (rounded up to 5 stars on Goodreads)
Meet the Author, Erica Bauermeister
Erica Bauermeister is the author of the bestselling novel The School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners, and The Lost Art of Mixing. She is also the co-author of the non-fiction works, 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader’s Guide and Let’s Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She has a PhD in literature from the University of Washington, and has taught there and at Antioch University. She is a founding member of the Seattle7Writers and currently lives in Port Townsend, Washington.
Which scent triggers a memory for you? Do you think that scent is an important part of making memories?
Happy Reading Book Buddies!
“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke
“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes
“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection! Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text
Next week, I look forward to bringing you a review of The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See.
I’m working through all the titles on my Spring TBR! See my updates here. I’m in the midst of On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, and I have only two more titles left (still waiting for library holds or good Kindle deals!). I might make it before I publish my Summer TBR.
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