Maggie Alderson has a light touch, a well-sharpened wit and lots of heart. If The Scent of You were a fragrance, it would be a fresh floral perfume, with spicy undertones – and surprising depth. An aroma that lingers, pleasantly, leaving you keen for the next light-yet-heartfelt tale Alderson concocts.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and as recent empty-nester Polly reflects on the year just gone, she really doesn’t have much to complain about. Her perfume blog has been a success, her children have flown the coop – and her octogenarian mother is in fine fettle. There’s just one thing – and it’s a big one. Her husband David has disappeared on a six-month sabbatical under mysterious circumstances, leaving a Dear Jane letter that hands Polly more questions than answers.
As Polly tries to make sense of David’s sudden absence, she is drawn into a new life, rich in fresh scents – including perfumer Guy, brash yoga student Shirlee and an old flame, Edward, who might become a bright spot in Polly’s confusing new situation. But, as Polly grapples with both the possibilities and trials of her new circumstances, she begins to see that life can be sweet, despite the bitter undertones.
Alderson’s writing is sparklingly alive, her character’s flawed but loveable and Polly a voice you want to follow. The narrative is punctuated with ‘posts’ from Polly’s fictitious blog FragrantCloud.net – which give a little extra context to main themes of the story – using the lightly scented language of their scent-obsessed ‘author’. Themes such as motherhood: ‘My smells of a son are gummy sweeties, Play-Doh, Pritt Stick, poster paint and wax crayons… Fried onions and meat on the breath. Tomato ketchup.’ Or the transition of life after someone has left, the ‘scents of an ending’ – ‘the naphtha of boot polish, the petroleum reek of coal tar soap, the fresh wood of just-sharpened pencils…’
Scent is acknowledged as one of the strongest catalysts for sharp, unfiltered memory. And Alderson harnesses this nicely, in unfussy, stylish prose – with the kind of sharp economy of expression you can expect from a well-heeled journalist and editor. Leading us, quite literally, by the nose, through this thoroughly satisfying tale.
Maggie Alderson is the author of nine novels and four collections of her columns from Fairfax’s Good Weekend magazine. Before becoming a full-time author, she worked as a journalist and columnist in the UK and Australia, editing several magazines, including British ELLE. She writes for the Sunday Age and maggiealderson.com.