Quick reminder: join me for an online book club in October. We’ll be talking about Remembering Smell by Bonnie Blodgett.
Between my usual work commute, and an unusual amount of travel, I’m finding it difficult to curl up with a book these days. But I haven’t cut back on my reading. All of this road and plane time has led me back to one of my favorite indulgences — audio books, and to one of my favorite authors — Margaret Atwood.
I heard Atwood speak last April at a nearby university. She was promoting her newest book, The Year of the Flood (2009), a novel about environmental catastrophe, mass extinction, genetic engineering, world hunger, exploitation, the end of literacy, and the future of humanity. You will understand that although I was eager, I refrained during the Q&A from voicing my one burning query: “What perfume do you wear?”
This question isn’t quite as gratuitous as it sounds. As Atwood spoke, my mind filled with half-memories of her novels, many of which I’d read over a decade ago. While the details had blurred over time, I was still haunted by the olfactory ghosts of each and every one of them. There is a passage in Bodily Harm (1998) that I just can’t shake — only a sentence I think — where changes in a Lora’s bodily odors lead to a disturbing revelation. Early in Alias Grace (1997), the protagonist describes the word “murderess” as having the musky, oppressive smell of dead flowers in a vase. Later, Simon Jordon is distracted by Grace’s scent of skin, smoke, laundry soap, mushrooms, ferns, crushed fruit, and unwashed scalp. She in turn has detected his odor of lavender, leather and ears…