Marc Levy is the most read French author alive today with nineteen novels to his name so it is a little surprising that this is the first time his books have crossed my path. On paper it really isn’t my kind of book. A winding story set in the years immediately following the second world war. London is rebuilding itself and so is Alice Pendelbury.
Alice lost both of her parents in an air strike during the war. The house she’d grown up in had disappeared overnight along with her family and all of their belongings. It is now December 1950 and she has made a new life for herself with a close group of friends, a draughty cold apartment in London and a profession that makes her very happy. Alice is a “nose”. She has an acute sense of smell and can distinguish and memorize any odour. She works away busily in her flat blending her fragrances and selling them to London perfume shops.
When her friends suggest a day trip to Brighton Alice goes along excitedly. The pier and its rides have only recently reopened and despite the winter weather a day at the seaside is very appealing. At the end of the day they are heading back to the train station when they encounter a fortune teller’s caravan. Alice’s friends persuade her to get her fortune read. The strange old woman insists that she has seen Alice’s eyes before. She tells her that she carries a story without even realising it.
The fortune teller continues that the most important man in Alice’s life, who she has been looking for without even realising it, was walking behind her just moments before. The search for this man will entail meeting six other people first and it will be an amazing journey. Alice is sceptical and ends up having to run with her friends for the last train back to London. The fortune tellers words are running through her head though and she now has an itch inside that won’t let up.
With the aid of her eccentric neighbour Daldrey Alice sets off on the journey of a lifetime. An evocative and exotic expedition that sees Alice travelling through post war Europe to the Eastern mysteries of Istanbul. A world of different scents, experiences and the discovery of a whole new life.
Levy’s characters are richly described and leap off the page at you. It is a feast for all of the senses as you smell the fragrant flowers, taste the sweet and gooey pastries and join Daldrey in a glass or three of the local alcoholic tipples. This is a search for a beginning that she never knew existed and as the story evolves Alice will become your quirky and talented best friend.
UK Publication Date Feb 5 2019. 278 pages.