After the death of her mother, Emma is given the keys to a dilapidated house in Valencia. With her career and personal life in shambles, she decides to start over by moving abroad against the wishes of her grandmother, Freya. As Emma starts to renovate the house and meet the locals, it becomes clear that both the house and her grandmother have been hiding secrets. Alongside this contemporary story, we also have the story of Freya, Charles and Rosa, set during the Spanish Civil War. Swept up by the urge to save Spain from the fascists, Freya volunteers as a nurse and her brother Charles joins the army as a reporter. Rosa is a young girl fighting with her husband Jordi on the side of the republicans, but after an incident, she is left with Jordi's brother, the fascist Vicente. As the village becomes further divided by events, the three young people are caught up in a web of secrets.
I so wanted to like this book. Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres and it's rare to see a fiction book set during the Spanish Civil War. Although I know a little bit about the history of the time, I don't know very much and I was looking forward learning more about this particular time period. On this criteria, the book was successful as Lord Brown was able to convey the devastation of the war effectively and the sense of time and place was vivid. There's one memorable scene early in the book where two war photographers take a picture of a 'falling man', a man who has just been shot, and these kinds of images repeat throughout the historical sections, building up to a strong impression of the war. Even in the contemporary sections, there was a hint that the Spanish characters were still divided, still feeling the after-effects of the civil war.
However (and it's a big however), I just couldn't get along with the plot. The Perfume Garden is a sweeping epic and whilst I love sweeping epics in general, it was just too melodramatic for me. There was a lot of all good (Luca) and all bad characters (Vicente, Delilah) and the pages are full of dramatic incidents. I would liked to have seen the fascist characters developed as more than simply 'bad because they were fascists'. As I said, I don't mind drama and epics, but there was too much melodrama in this book and I didn't find events towards the end of the story believable. This completely killed my enjoyment of it as I couldn't get into the book and live the story.
Other readers have really enjoyed The Perfume Garden, but it didn't work for me.
Source: Historical Fiction Book Tours
First Published: 2012
Score: 2.5 out of 5