The Scent-Keeper by Erica Bauermeister

When I first started reading this book, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it. The writing is lovely, of that there’s no doubt but, initially, the story is opaque and unfolds slowly until…it doesn’t.

In an usual move, the mystery behind young Emmeline’s life on a remote Canadian island with her scientist father who collects and captures scents in bottles, isn’t revealed until about a third of the way through the book. Up to that point, the reader spends each day with Emmeline, comprehending the small world she lives in through her eyes, ears and, as one would expect from the title, her nose. Her life might be defined by the island’s coastline, but in so many ways, it’s a deep and magical existence without borders, limited only by the stories she loves and her father’s and her imagination. 

When Emmeline discovers one of her father’s stories is untrue, her reaction sets in motion a series of life-altering events. Suddenly, the investment in the narrative, in Emmeline and her father, John, becomes more than the worthwhile task it already was. After that point, Emmeline’s life, which has already taken an unexpected turn, continues to move apace. Forced to engage with people beyond her sheltered upbringing, Emmeline at first struggles. She is an unusual and extraordinary young woman who has been taught to understand the world through her olfactory senses (something we all do to a degree and mostly unconsciously). But it’s not until she meets a young man with a secret and learns one about herself that she’s propelled into an exciting future, one where others appreciate not only who she is, but what she can do for them.

Rich in detail, observations about people and objects, but most of all, aromas, Emmeline’s first-person narrative is mesmerizing. Sadness, tragedy, joy, romance, love, longing, jealously, suspicion, trust all make an appearance, but more significantly, have an odour that infuses the story in quite wondrous ways.

I don’t want to say too much for fear of including spoilers except to say that this novel was more than I ever expected and will linger in all your senses long after the last page. Extraordinary.

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