Monday, 26 June 2017

THE LOST GIRL by Carol Drinkwater

To say that we live in very uncertain times would be an understatement. Society has constantly gone through struggles and upheavals, but what is now different is that we follow every twist and turn on twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and by SMS. There is no passage of time while we wait for information to come through; it’s now relentlessly instant. For the plot of her latest novel, Carol Drinkwater has collided the 2015 Bataclan attack with the perfume fields of Grasse, and produced a work that uses scented references to lift the very words from the page and resonate with the reader. THE LOST GIRL is an emotional roller-coaster.

Carol Drinkwater is still most famous for playing the role of Helen Anderson (later Herriot) in All Creatures Great And Small. The TV series started in 1978 and made her a household name, as well as the pin-up girl for a whole generation! When Carol left the role she continued to act but it was the purchase of her home in France that really changed her career. She bought an old olive farm and, along with her husband Michel, set about renovating it. This provided the inspiration for her successful series of books, the Olive Trilogy, and made her a bestselling author.

For THE LOST GIRL Carol has spread the action between 1947 and 2016 with scent making appearances throughout the book. The references to perfume help to add a nostalgic feel to the historical sections but also highlight the monetary differences between the flower growers and the perfume producers. Difficult harvests, for the various reasons that are used in the story, could mean ruin for the Grasse farmers in the forties and fifties but this was unimportant to the majority of perfume wearers at the time. Remember, this was before “transparency” and the public had never heard of “synthetics”.

The way that Carol uses other scents in the book really puts you into the action and occasionally makes for challenging reading. With references to the metallic smell of blood, the almost blindingly medicinal aroma of a hospital, and even the readers own impression of what “fear” smells like, she takes us on the journey of two women who have both lost something which they never thought would be found. In getting the reader to think about the aromas it means that we also embellish the physical actions that we are confronted with, and it makes them more real.

One of the problems with writing two time zones in the same book is that the authors often find themselves struggling to find a style. Carol achieves this with ease and the 1947 passages are tranquil and unhurried whilst the present day has a frenetic speed which suits the iPhone generation. With appearances by Chanel No.5, Eau Sauvage and Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue there is a welcome familiarity in amongst the challenging subject. Add to this an almost radio-play structure and you are gripped from page one. The final words have to go to Carol’s mum, Phyllis, who said of the victims of the Bataclan, “every one of them has a mother somewhere waiting for them”.

THE LOST GIRL is released on June 29th and is published by Michael Joseph, which is part of Penguin Random House, and is available from all booksellers.

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