Scent by Isabel Costello
As a character, Clémentine is both highly relatable and distinct. We all know people like her, people loyal to their unhappiness because change is so tough. We all know people who hide their painful histories, even from themselves. But, although I’ve been to Grasse (perfume capital of the world), I’ve never given a moment’s thought to what goes into perfume creation (at least not since I learnt it’s more complicated than leaving rose petals soaking in a jar of water). I also found it fascinating to be guided around Paris by a narrator whose primary sense is smell.
So I couldn’t help rooting for Clémentine, hoping she’d find the courage to become more of the woman she wants to be. Although I’d have preferred a faster paced set-up, I found Isabel Costello’s quiet second novel a lovely mid-life coming of age story about a woman facing up to her disappointments to rediscover her passions. Thanks to the author and publishers Muswell Press for my advance proof copy. There’s good news that Muswell Press is also republishing her debut, Paris Mon Amour; click on the title to read my review.
Jumping the Queue by Mary Wesley
The author published this, her debut, in 1983 at the age of seventy. I’m not sure when I first read it, but I would have been considerably younger. I remembered a romance between an elderly woman and a younger man. In fact, I referred to it as a May-to-December romance in an early blog post, but that wasn’t the novel I read in 2021.
For one thing, Matilda is only in her 50s. Although Hugo finds her attractive, the sex is more rape than romance. Even more disturbing, when Matilda discovers her deceased husband was shagging their grown-up daughter, she perceives it as a betrayal (of her) rather than incest and abuse.
Of course, Matilda’s narcissism might be the point of the novel. The destruction of her delusion of the perfect marriage is a better rationale for her suicide bid than abhorrence of ageing. AAlthough hollow at the core, she’s not depressed.
If so, what’s the point of Hugh? He isn’t the catalyst for Matilda’s new insights; nor does he provide a satisfying subplot. We learn little about his relationship with his mother – apart from the fact that he didn’t detest her – and the reveal of how she died beggars belief.
When the entire cast – including Matilda’s friends and children – is unlikeable, it gets tedious. Especially when no character is obnoxious enough to be funny. Neither is the pain explored enough for poignancy; instead it’s a flippant novel that makes me wonder what Mary Wesley was avoiding when she wrote it.
Nevertheless, there’s always an upside to reading. For one blogger who disliked the novel more eloquently than I did, it was treating herself to the ingredients in Matilda’s suicide picnic. For me, it was finding a Matilda with the same spelling as mine: