'The Stranger in the Mirror' by Jane Shilling - a poignant and funny memoir about encroaching middle age - was a book which had that effect on me lately. In the perfume sphere, Chandler Burr's 'The Perfect Scent' was another. And now Alyssa Harad's 'Coming to My Senses' completes the trio. So, given my keen enjoyment of this book, you may be surprised to learn that it has taken me at least six months to finish it. This is because the place I most like to read is in the bath. However - as some long-suffering readers already know - the vagaries of my hot water system mean that I have only managed a proper soak once every six weeks or so, and my reading rate has plummeted accordingly. This also explains why there has been a fair bit of rereading of 'Coming to My Senses' well before the end. Pretty much every time I settled down in the bath I had to go back 20 pages or more to remind myself where I was up to. And as I haven't read the beginning of the book since last October or thereabouts, I am a bit sketchy about some of the details, hence why I have deliberately not used the word 'review' in the title of this post. I must say, however, that it is a tribute to the readability of 'Coming to My Senses' that you could read any random section again and again and enjoy it just as much each time - for the understated lyricism of the language as much as the story of Alyssa's 'perfume journey', or the preparations for her wedding, which forms the climactic centrepiece of the book.
Yes, this is more of a passionate plug for the book, a heartfelt plea to readers to just go buy it. I can't remember the exact sequence of events (and it would spoil things to reveal too much anyway), but I do distinctly remember that I relished every word. For in telling the story of her burgeoning interest in fragrance - of how she fell down the rabbit hole, as we might say - Alyssa is also articulating the stories of so many of us. The lurking on perfume blogs in thrall to the beguiling writing of Robin, Marina, Victoria et al, the heightened sensibility to ambient scents, the sniffing forays in upmarket department stores (testing JAR Parfums and my beloved and sadly defunct Plus Que Jamais!), the tentative sharing of her interest with friends, the sample packages winging across the globe, the fellowship of Sniffapalooza, the epiphanies, the transformative joy of a scent wardrobe with its infinite possibilities of toggling between selves, the dogged search for a bottle of vintage perfume containing the fragrant quintessence of her mother...There are so many vignettes and little touches which chime with the perfumista reader, though I feel sure the book will have more mainstream appeal.
|Plus Que Jamais - missing you more than ever|
And while not all of us have been married, there is much about Alyssa's 'coming of age' story - that runs in a seamless parallel to her olfactory awakening - to which the reader can relate. For there is an endearing girl-next-door quality to Alyssa, with her wayward hair and curvaceous figure that needs to be corralled by 'serious underwear' on her wedding day. Like us, Alyssa admits in the book to being a bit starstruck by the 'grande dames' bloggers, a number of whom have cameo appearances in the book (including that dainty duo, Victoria and Marina of Boisdejasmin and Perfume Smelling Things). Since then, Alyssa has gone on to clock up guest writing credits on PST, NST and in magazines such as Marie Claire. With the release of 'Coming to My Senses' Alyssa puts the lid on her own 'grande dame' status, all the while remaining the friendly and accessible figure she was before her publishing fame.
For it sums up the warm inclusivity of our perfume community that this eloquent conjurer of a perfumed life is still just a mouse click away from liking your photo on Facebook.
Photo of Guerlain Plus Que Jamais from fragrantica.com