Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Scent Keepr by Erica Bauermeister

The Scent Keeper
by Erica Bauermeister
Published May 2019 by St Martin's Publishing Group
Read by Gabra Zackman
9 hrs, 34 mins

Publisher's Summary: 
Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them. As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world—a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination.

Publisher's Summary: 
This is my fourth Erica Bauermeister book - I missed it's publication but I've been looking forward to enjoying more of her work ever since I finished The Lost Art of Mixing in 2014 (preceded by two of her books in 2011). 

I was so looking forward to what has become Bauermeister's forte - casts of characters brought together to lean on each other to overcome adversity, with each character having their own chapters to develop their stories. I didn't even look at the summary when I requested this book from the library (again!). That preconceived expectation I had going into this book almost certainly colored my opinion of the book, much to this book's detriment. I didn't get my cast of characters in The Scent Keeper or all of their back stories. 

There is also what I would best call a sense of magical realism or fantasy to this book. As you know, magical realism and/or fantasy are elements in books that I struggle with. Sometimes they work for me. Because they do, I wouldn't have dismissed this book out of hand had I read in the summary that Emmeline's father had a machine that could capture scents, which he stored in bottles. Most often, though those elements don't work for me in a book. Unfortunately, this was one of those books. 

Kirkus Reviews calls this book an "artfully crafted coming-of-age story." Lately I've been finding myself agreeing with Kirkus more and more but I'm afraid I have to disagree with them on this one. Even given the element of fantasy in the first part of this book, Emmeline's time on the island with her father, that was my favorite part of the book (although Zackman's reading of Emmeline's father's voice didn't work for me at all). Bauermeister's writing in this really shown, with her sublime descriptions of the nature surrounding Emmeline. Once Emmeline leaves the island Bauermeister seems to lean more on stereotypes and tropes than I've seen before in her work. 

I can't help but wonder what I might have made for this book had I known ahead of time what the book was about. Or had I read the book in print, rather than in audiobook form. Might I have seen Bauermeister's characters as the individuals she no doubt meant them to be? Might I have been more willing to accept the fantasy elements - the machine, Emmeline's ability to "read" people by their scents and the scents they leave behind? Perhaps. For now, I will just look forward to what Bauermeister is working on now. 

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