A review copy of this book was provided by St Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.
When I was approached to read this book, I was a little hesitant – I had never really heard of anyone navigating and documenting life via their sense of smell. It struck me as an odd concept and one that might be a little too out there for me, but I decided to give this book a shot anyways. Am I ever glad that I did – beautifully written, The Scent Keeper tells the story of a girl growing up in the strangest of circumstances, all while trying to understand the world around her in large part via her sense of smell.
Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them. As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world–a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination.
Lyrical and immersive, The Scent Keeper explores the provocative beauty of scent, the way it can reveal hidden truths, lead us to the person we seek, and even help us find our way back home.
The main joys of this book are its characters and the emotions that are sewn into every page. Emmeline was a complex and thoroughly enjoyable main character – as a reader you get to experience her shifting from childhood wonder to experiencing the real world for the first time. She was deeply conflicted and bore guilt that no child should ever have to, and you get to see how her new experiences help her process old, dark memories. Other characters were also just as well written – Emmeline’s father, for example, slowly shifts from a father who can do no wrong, to a character whose intentions and motivations were as complicated as he was. Even after being in the book for a few pages, all of the characters had a way of getting you invested and keeping you emotionally attached.
Most of the plot of this book is great- it’s well paced and cuts out anything that would slow down Emmeline’s journey. I loved that the book spans a massive amount of time and covers all of Emmeline’s most formative periods: growing up isolated on an island, finding a new kind of family, learning to deal with the pressures of school and social situations, and finally her trying to make it big in the city. The whole style of writing has a lyrical, timeless quality to it, one that you don’t often see in modern books. It was nearly impossible for me to put this book down between the immersive writing style and the well paced plot. However, the one part of this book I did not enjoy is the ending. It felt like the book was rushing to some grand moment, a reunion and a final lesson, but then it just stops. While this style of ending can work for some books, for this book it just felt like a cheap ending to an otherwise rich story.
The Scent Keeper is a wonderfully written, well rounded novel – it spends the time to not only develop its characters lovingly, but also handles their stories with the dignity and nuance that they deserve. While the ending left me wanting, the rest of this book was phenomenal and I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a true breath of fresh air in adult literature. 4/5.
About the Author:
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.