Monday, February 04, 2013

fragrant reading - Gazelle by Rikki Ducornet

I know that I read Gazelle by Rikki Ducornet about a year ago because I remember seriously contemplating a bah-humbuggy Valentine's Day post on martial infidelity featuring Gazelle and Blue Angel by Francine Prose, which I read around the same time. That post didn't come to anything and I never got around to posting about either of the novels. I really wasn't keen on Blue Angel and I've more or less succeeded in putting it completely out of my mind. Gazelle lingers, though.

Gazelle was an impulse buy (from Book Depot in St. Catherines, Ontario) before I put the kibosh on unfettered book acquisition. The opening sentence of its flap text--"A mother's betrayal, an unexpurgated copy of The Arabian Nights, a dazzling perfume-maker, and the scent of rose attar all serve to awaken a girl of thirteen to the erotic life"--is no doubt sufficient both as a synopsis and as an explanation for why I picked up the novel. What I remember most about Gazelle now is the novel's language and how fragrance permeates it.
That afternoon I heard the curious vocabulary of the perfumer for the first time. Vulgar was said with a sneer, venomous shadow with reverence.  A scent might be milky or metallic, sulphurous or chalky.  One was to be worn with linen the color of sand or snow; one was prodigious, one had a velvet body, another's was deep red, or, if worn in stormy weather, red veering to black; one smelled of old silver and cedar forests, and yet another was symphonic--"unlike the stenches my rivals call perfume but which are no better than the urine of asses and camels!" The great perfumes of ancient Egypt:  hekenou, medjet, sefet, and nekhenem he called: irresistible.  Their names alone seemed to darken the garden air with a mysterious smoke. (38-39)

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