July 23

The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister

I just snapped this book shut and oh Readheads, I need to talk about it!

Sometimes when I finish a book, I’ll google the reviews to check if I have reading comrades or I am alone in the wilderness of loving or hating it. I don’t feel so inclined with this one because Reese Witherspoon has gotten ahead of the game and stamped her sweet name on it so the movie is surely locked and loaded. Whatever she does with this story, I’ll watch it because it’ll be screen gold.

But, given I am sure Reese is reading here, please, please, please take a memo and for the love of Chanel No 5, can you work on the mother daughter relationship! I beg you Reese. I loved everything about this story, except that. It was – and you can choose to excuse the pun or not – a holy stinker.

We meet Emmeline at home on a deserted island located within a Canadian archapelego where she lives with her father and when I mean deserted, they are the only ones there. Emmeline’s father is dedicated to the senses, notably scents and the memories they hold. They live surrounded by hundreds of miniature glass bottles, each one containing a single scent, a single moment in time captured by his revolutionary machine ‘Nightingale’ – a contraption designed to capture a smell the way a polaroid captures a picture.

The why of the bottle collection is never truly explained but they are fascinating and magical to young Emmeline. They are as mysterious to her as the story to how they ended up here on the island, alone.

It is a deeply beautiful, hard existence but the way the smells and the evocative rituals are written about in the early pages is intoxicating and heady. I settled in and drifted happily from page to page.

Then one day, tragedy strikes and Emmeline is thrust onto the mainland into a whole new world of scents and people. The characters in this section (and I say section because for me the book is broken into three distinct stages) are again vibrant, interesting, warm – spun with both cinnamon and grit.

And then, desperately seeking answers and to find her loved, lost (only) friend Fisher and a mother who she has no memory of, Emmeline leaves for the city.

And then we meet mum.

And here is where I spent lots of wasted time going back over already read pages to see I had missed something – something really, really important about this woman.


If we were to talk in olfactory speak, I was getting the story’s strong top note, the glorious middle note but the base note, the mum note if you will, was non-existent. Imagine meeting your daughter, in her teens, after she has been stolen from you and NOT falling on your knees, gasping grateful sobs of relief, joy, elation? Hugging her and never letting go, right? There was not as much as a hand holding Readheads. And.that.just.annoyed.me.

Before this sad episode, the book was so full of generous characters – not all good or nice – but they were well thought out, complete, full, robust, hearty. Here was the mother – the only missing scent in Emmeline’s life – applauded for her success but portrayed with zero depth and humanity so she stood out like a dish of month-old pot pourri. Looks nice enough but smells off.

I am still so confused by her character. I couldn’t stand her so the story took a weird left turn. The author steadies herself before the end (praise be) but I can’t help but be left with an emptiness …. and of course, a weird fascination about who will play the mother in the sure to be made movie adaptation. Please Reese, don’t let it be Laura Dern, I love her way too much. Nicole might be good though.

But that is my 2 cents worth (and send my royalty check Reese for casting advice to our hello@readhead.com.au, with thanks).