“We are the unwitting carriers of our parents’ secrets, the ripples made by the stones we never saw.”
And so begins Erica Bauermeister’s The Scent Keeper (St. Martin’s Press, 2019), one of the most tender and magical bildungsroman tales I’ve ever read. Elements of this coming-of-age story reminded me of Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish, or rather reading the novel made me feel as I did the first time I read Big Fish – it’s a feeling you don’t forget. There’s something about the magic and the sweetness and the sorrow in a book like this that settles on the reader, an unassuming delight.
The novel opens and ends with the narrator, Emmeline, speaking to her unborn child, and the story sandwiched between the prologue and epilogue is one we imagine will be the child’s most favorite of fairytales; it is certainly one of mine.
Emmeline grew up on a remote island with her father. She doesn’t remember a time before the island. Her father teaches her how to use her senses, especially scent, to survive and thrive on their little island. She remembers the joy. The forager’s feasts. The mermaid parties. Cleo. The smell of the cabin and the air as the first violets bloomed.
And she remembers the magic. The Nightingale. The scent paper. The memories trapped in bottles. The moment she learned her father had lied. The moment she betrayed him. The madness. The loss.
Following an unspeakable tragedy, Emmeline is forced to leave the island. She is taken in by an older couple at Secret Cove, and Colette’s warmth and Henry’s gruff tenderness are exactly what the fragile girl needs. As she emerges from her grief and settles into a routine, she becomes haunted by her father’s secrets. Who was he? Who is she?
In her quest to find answers, she falls in love. But neither the answers nor the love are easy, and both lead her into the city. There, memories and the secrets collide. Emmeline is reminded that “people lie, but smells never do” and she knows the smells, the cedar, the sea salt, the cinnamon, will take her home.
The Scent Keeper is a quick and easy read that is full of warmth and heart.
Read this book.