Thursday, August 6, 2009

Underlying Notes by Eva Pasco: book review

Carla Matteo, a woman who is narrating her mid-life crisis and her hard-earned wisdom at the end of it, goes on through life's vagaries by taking to the bottle...the perfume bottle, that is! Yes, Carla is a regular perfume aficionado with a genuine fragrance passion that manifests itself in every corner and crook and Underlying Notes is her story.

Summer is the perfect time for a little light reading and several people I know revert to genres that are easy and well-suited to the pool cocktails or the straw-topped umbrelas on the sandy beach. Myself I leave Plato be and turn to Yannis Maris and his noir detective fiction and feel all the richer for it. Perfume enthusiasts have another focus too: books that are centered around perfume. That category is wide and includes endeavours from the more scientific & informed to the glossy coffee-table tomes and the caustically witty guides. But those rarely go well with the above-mentioned environment and are often cumbersome to drag along. No, the pleasure of discovering perfume references in a simple paperback novel is far greater for those moments and proves memorable in its own way. Romance novel writer and perfume lover Eva Pasco decided to do just that and write her debut book with a staggering amount of perfume name-dropping (and even descriptions that go into the notes!). As her heroine admits:
"I don't consider myself an addict anymore than someone who fancies himself or herself a collector of fine art, wine, rare books, antiques, stamps, or comics. I view this pursuit as a noble enterprise to elevate my olfactory senses, satisfy momentary whims, relive memories, restore tranquility, or boost flagging energy. Above all, fragrance completes me. I'd no more forgo fragrance than skip brushing my teeth or showering each day." (chapter 1)

I admit that when I first saw the recommendation on Amazon ("for women over 40"), I was left a little aghast, my mouth a little open, questioning both the apparent idiocy of such a recommendation (do women change that dramatically over 40 that even their reading choices should follow?) and my own interest in the material. Being short of reaching that landmark (if only I had the wisdom...) and not a fan of "women-geared" literature (chic-lit) on the whole, I was hesitant. However, upon reading it, I understood why the recommendation was made in the first place and mentally justified it a little more leniently this time.
This is clearly a book written by a woman; a woman who takes the center stage role of narrator and whose rite of passage is documented from a woman's perspective on the first person. On top of that that rite of passage does have to do with middle-age and the going through signposts that involve marriage, a possible seperation, setting up a new business, abandoning one's own dreams in favour of a spouse's and the intricasies of calibrating one's life into fitting many different roles ~much like women have been doing in the last century at least. One might even pick up a beauty tip or two along the way:
"I showered, towel dried, and rubbed China Rose lotion on my skin while damp.When it came time to put on my face, I blended moisturizer with concealer to camouflage the indelible gray south of the borders. I took more time than usual rubbing gel into my hair to lift and flick limp locks into place. As a grooming finale, I sprayed China Rose fragrance in the air, stepped into themist, and for the road, I squirted two pumps of juice onto a cotton ball for tucking inside the cleavage of my bra. When I finished dressing there wasjust enough time for me to round out my morning rituals by logging onto" (chapter 20)
The plot is well-paced and easy to follow, the references are there for those wanting to seek them out and sometimes are chosen to highlight a particular mood or phase or evoking memories that are kept precious:
"That there could be other luscious fragrances lured me to my parents' bedroom where I never tired of exploring the bottles on the vanity tray. I'd loosen the caps and sniff without dabbing, thinking I pulled one over on them. Ma had to know by my vapor trails, but she allowed me this transgression. One day I blurted out my secret, in tears, because I had clumsily knocked over the porcelain southern belle atomizer—a gift from Daddy. The overhead umbrella broke so that it lay over her back, no longer offering protection from the sun and no longer able to spray. The loveliest spicy fragrance was forever entombed because of the irreparable damage I caused.Then Daddy bought me my own vanity tray for my bureau along with a blue bottle of Evening in Paris. About the time my breasts started budding, he gave me Tabu, which my mother disapproved of. In her mind, he granted a daughter license to wear red lipstick and nylons and go on dates. Incidentally, all three criteria would have been met "over his dead body." (chapter 1)
The characters are enjoyable with their own set of quirks; the mother in law and sister are particularly fun to watch, even if the husband, Joe, is a little too good to be 100% true, but I suppose it's important for women to see a man not backing off and supporting their wife's dreams. Even if those involve a little titillating soft-core, I get that the writer's point is that passion isn't dead when one witnesses their second and third ~and umpteenth~ wrinkle:
"He sniffed my scented wrists and inhaled the underlying notes lingering there before tracing his lips along a path from my cleavage down to the brink of my erogenous landscape. He parted my legs, kissed my inner thighs, and swirled his tongue inside the folds of damp flesh. {etc}".

If you enjoy the genre, Underlying Notes is a good companion for your vacation reading.

The book is available on Booklocker on this link.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Book reviews


  1. Maria15:35

    Oh, thanks so much! I DREAM of time when I can finally put aside tons of research lit on Byzantine history that take all my time now, at least for a week, and allow myself smth like that. Though it's gonna be second after "The Cider House Rules" :) Chic-lit is a great distraction, no way denying it, and I always feel energetic after it. And all those descreptions of a heroine pampering herself - my brain goes blackout at once :) But mostly I choose family sagas, looong novels and memoirs, and books that make me laugh. And movies, movies, movies. Drinks included :)

  2. this does sound interesting- I like anything with perfume references- obviously!

  3. Maria,

    Byzantine history isn't too bad either, I should say!! :-) It should make for several great novels, I bet!
    But yes, chick lit is relaxing because undemanding.
    Movies, movies, movies, drinks included sounds like a plan to me and...can I join??

    Hope you're having a great time!

  4. K,

    there are TONS of perfume references in this one, so if that's your thing, you're all set. ;-)


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