Have you ever been transported back to the memory of a time and place by a smell? The Scent Keeper is a man with a seemingly magical machine that can preserve those smells on “scent papers” that he keeps in sealed glass jars. This is one of the unusual truths Emmeline grows up with, living alone with her father on a tiny island off the coast of western Canada. It’s a subsistence life filled with stories and fairy tales, and the scents of their life—spruce and pine, damp earth and applewood smoke, winter storms and the first day of spring.
As she grows older, Emmeline’s increasing independence eventually leads her to discover that at least some of her father’s stories have been lies. Her adolescent plan to convince her father to leave the island results in a terrible event that changes everything and forces Emmeline to leave the island alone.
On the mainland, Emmeline realizes again and again how sheltered her life was– she’d never seen any person except her father, let alone taken a warm shower or ridden in a car. She experiences and processes much of this newness through her acute sense of smell, which quickly becomes an obvious “difference” at school. Her only friend, Fisher, is a boy who is different in his own way and carries his own set of secrets. Emmeline finally leaves the comforts of her small town and adoptive parents to venture into the big city to find out the truth about her father, about the mother she never knew, about Fisher, and about who she is and what’s important to her.
I thought this was a quiet, but lovely, book. The characters are people who care about each other, but mostly keep their thoughts to themselves, leaving some mystery to each of them. There are many detailed descriptions of scents, which seemed over-done at the start of the book, but it became clear that that’s just how Emmeline experiences her life. She’s a “nose,” and the later parts of the book give an interesting view of how that talent is useful in retail and advertising, not just perfumery. I kept coming back to this book, drawn to the mystery. I wondered what new aspect of Emmeline’s childhood would be revealed or explained, and hoped that she’d learn enough to be able to make peace with her past and figure out her present.
Today’s review was written by Sarah Williams, a classmate of mine from The University of Notre Dame. Sarah is a high school math teacher living in Portland, Oregon. She’s mom to a middle-schooler and a toddler, and is finally carving out time for things that SHE likes to do–reading, hiking, and running half marathons.
To get your copy of the Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister, please click the link below: