And here is review No 8, of a novel which was both fragrance-forward and finished fairly fast by me. That said, my review may not be appreciably longer than bitesized, for the simple reason that I couldn't figure out how to say too much about The Scent of Possibility without it acting as a spoiler. But here goes...
Sarah McCartney, as regular readers will doubtless know, is the quirky and colourful owner of 4160 Tuesdays, who has been acclaimed as one of the up-and-coming stars on the perfume scene. She was recently dubbed - in a superb article on the UK's artisan scent industry in Management Today - as a 'punk perfumer', and I have previously featured three of her creations on the blog: Time to Draw the Raffle Numbers (the scent which spurred my friend Clare on in her charity bike ride) and Tart's Knicker Drawer & Doe in the Snow, following Sarah and her husband Nick's visit to Bonkers Towers in the summer.
|Sarah and Nick at a Les Senteurs event this week|
Without further ado, here is the blurb from the back of the book, to give you a little taster:
'Down a cobbled mews off one of London's rare tranquil rare tranquil backstreets, people come to talk, gaze at the garden, have a nice cup of tea and a biscuit, then leave with a small blue bottle of perfume. Captured inside it is a scented memory of happy times.
What could be the harm in that?
London is a big city, but paths cross, and get all tangled up. A small misunderstanding leads to a seriously large one.
This is the novel that accidentally launched a London perfumery, 4160 Tuesdays.'
The Scent of Possibility is divided into lots of short chapters, devoted to - and toggling amongst - the various characters. All of whom sooner or later fetch up at the office - in a mews near Holborn - of a lady called Unity Cassel, who helps them solve their personal problems. The characters don't know this when they arrive, mind...The trigger for their visit is being given a business card with an appointment on it by someone (usually known to them) who has already been, found their own session helpful, and decided that the other person could do with Unity's services more than them, prompting them to pass their card along. I can best describe it as a game of aroma-counselling 'tag', for as well as having a cathartic heart-to-heart with Unity - plus high calibre refreshments! - each 'client' takes away a little bottle of perfume which she carefully selects for them. Each bottle captures in olfactory form a past memory of a happy occasion that is specific / personal to them, the idea being that the scent will simultaneously comfort and galvanise them into tackling their issues head on.
|Pied Bull Court / Galen Place ~ Source: mouseprice.com|
The fun in the book, which is very cleverly plotted, is that the stories turn out to be far more intertwined than the reader at first imagines...and that is about as much as I can say about that without really giving the card and the game away!
So instead, I will say that I devoured The Scent of Possibility in a week, which is the sign of a seriously engrossing read. Timewise only Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty has come close. I can't stress enough that this is a truly remarkable feat, because in the past year I have only managed to read a derisory seven books in total, which equates to a laughably slow rate of about seven weeks for each. So to finish Sarah's book in a fraction of that time or less is accolade indeed.
The other thing I appreciated about The Scent of Possibility is its easy-going, naturalistic style. Sarah has a sure touch in conveying the 'voice' of each of her characters, so for example, Jessica, who is a schoolgirl, speaks in a breathy stream of consciousnessness blurt, with minimal punctuation. I am pleased to report that Sarah doesn't pepper Jessica's internal conversations with 'like' or 'you know' every few words, to which young people seem inordinately prone.
The characterisations themselves are economically and deftly drawn, for example when Phoebe describes a man she was going out with as being handsome in 'that dark, Celtic, smouldery way'. Elsewhere, she mocks her own appearance in trainers, comparing herself to 'those American women in the last century who came over to the City and went to work in tea-coloured tights, Burberry macks and big hair, with a pair of bright white Reeboks at the bottom, to make them look like they worked hard and played hard and all that rubbish.'
|Five of the scents featured in the book are from the current range|
Oh, and a quick word on grammar: Sarah loves the semi-colon, and though I haven't conducted a poll as such, I am pretty sure she favours its use over the dash by quite some margin. The semi-colon is a bit of an endangered species in modern usage - and is even considered archaic in some quarters - so I rather warmed to that touch, says she, without actually using one...;)
There is also a fair bit of gentle humour and wry observations of life's foibles, together with some pretty helpful relationship advice along the way. I could very easily imagine Suzi Godson of The Times coming up with the same diagnoses of these familiar - and familial - problems. Yes, the book is part agony aunt column, part perfume consultation-stroke-aromatherapy session, and part soap opera-cum-thriller. In short, The Scent of Possibility has something for everyone...except a shedload of dashes, obviously. Though it does have a shed.
NB In the spirit of full disclosure, I bought my own copy of The Scent of Possibility - that's it in Sarah's hand, in fact! - before or after she autographed it for me.