Books & Literature

Book Review: Perfume, by Megan Volpert

NON-FICTION: Megan Volpert’s Perfume carefully balances the artistry with the science of perfume.

A quirky and fascinating exploration of our relationship with scent.

Bloomsbury have brought out a series of gorgeous little books under the collective title Object Lessons.

Each of these books takes an everyday object and discusses it from various angles, including history, chemistry, design, and personal connections. Excerpts from many of these have been published in journals such as The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Utne Reader, and Granta.

One of the latest in this imprint is Perfume. Writer Megan Volpert explores the ephemeral yet surprisingly scientific nature of perfume. Clearly, Volpert is an afficionado, and her passion for scents permeates every page, like a splash of Youth Dew. Chapter headings include: Science; Literature; Space; Time; and Self. Each of these sections examines the phenomena of perfume, and of scent in general, from that particular angle. And each opens up a new thought about scent which may not have occurred to the reader. For example, in Science, Volpert talks about anosmia: the inability or impaired ability to smell things. Possibly not as life-altering as hearing or sight impairment, it is still has a significant effect on many aspects of a person’s life, not least, of course, on their ability to taste, as the two senses are interrelated.

Volpert has almost a chemist’s understanding of the components and makeup of perfume. She explains all manner of fascinating facts, and busts a few myths, like the theory that essential oils are all natural, or that synthetic scents are somehow inferior. As she points out, there are many delicate flower scents which can only be reproduced synthetically, including such old favourites as Lily of the Valley.

Perfume is not just one for the perfume lovers. It actually becomes a contemplation on life from a fragrant point of view. As well as a well-researched delight, this is a book which will make you see (or smell) things a little differently. And other than some oddly tortured (and even blatantly incorrect) syntax in some places (blame the editor?), the writing is tight, and engaging.

Other titles in this charming series include: Eye Chart; Golf Ball; Driver’s License; and Hashtag, just to name four of more than 50 either published or in the works. Cheap, tiny, portable, and very readable, this is an admirable project, and I for one will be grabbing more of them.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Bloomsbury
Released: October 2022
RRP: $19.99

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