Miss Bates’ responses to Laura Florand have been mixed: a tepid reaction to The Chocolate Touch and warmer, more loving-it reading of All For You. Miss Bates likes Florand better with every book she reads; it’s taken a while to get used to Florand’s distinct voice, a style and thematic concerns she finds increasingly more sympatico. Miss Bates characterizes what Florand brings to the genre as “lyrical angst,” with heroes and heroines embodying an emotional intensity distinctly, gallically high-strung. When it works, it’s touching, moving, heart-stopping; when it doesn’t, it’s at best, sentimental and, as you know, Miss Bates believes there’s nothing wrong with sentiment. Florand’s latest, A Wish Upon Jasmine, second in her La Vie en Roses series, is signature “lyrical angst.” Jasmin “Jess” Bianchi and Damien Rosier met and briefly wooed on a NYC hotel terrace and shared a passionate night. Their connection was instaneous and fierce, a recognition of attachment to the other that the romance genre, and Florand in particular, does so well. The light of day, however, dissipated the magic.
Jess thought she wasn’t beautiful enough, sophisticated enough, or alluring enough for legendary, cut-throat, paparazzi-attracting, international-model-dating Damien. Despite this, they had a world in common: the world of the parfumerie. Damien and his enormous family, extended and otherwise, are a renowned Grasse-France-set perfume company. Jess, in turn, is daughter to a rival, less successful, but more avant-garde parfumier (and one in her own right), a most beloved and loving father. Jess met and fell in love with Damien as her world fell apart: her father, dying; her career, as the maker of the best-selling scent, “Spoiled Brat”, in tatters as a sell-out to commercial interests. She was trying to regain her love of personalized scent, to re-establish her love of her perfume-making art in a new company. Unbeknownst to Damien, in New York buying out the fledgling niche company from Jess’s shallow partner, Tara Lee, the woman he fell in love became the recipient of his ruthless business acumen. When Jess also sees him being photographed with a glamorous model, she, to save her heart, hide her hurt, and salvage her strength for her father’s oncoming loss, snubs Damien. Damien’s heart is not as steely as Jess believes. He fell in love with her; he thought she saw him for an honourable man, one capable of offering fidelity and love, care, tenderness, and commitment. When she snubs him, he assumes their encounter was not as meaningful for her as for him.
The novel, however, opens with these events as backstory. After the death of her cherished father, Jess leaves NYC behind. She inherited a perfume shop in Damien’s Provençal hometown, Grasse, perfume capital of the world, and hopes to establish her niche perfume dream anew. Damien comes padding “pantherishly” into her dusty parfumerie, to demand its return, as it appears his family has claim to it as well. Two who began as strangers-lovers are reunited in the heat and sensuality of the south of France as enemies and rivals. But, “the heart has its reasons that reason knows not of,” to quote a French philosophe. There isn’t anything wrong between Jess and Damien that honesty and heart-felt conversation can’t heal. There is, in A Wish Upon Jasmine, the spectre of the Big Mis; this is not to its credit. But there’s something more too: Jess and Damien are blocked by a sense of identity that says to them “you don’t deserve to be loved.” In Jess, it is a deep, abiding, and unresolved grief for her father, and a sense of herself, a less successful aspect to her characterization, that she’s not beautiful, or glamorous enough for Damien.
Damien, however, is the more interesting of the two. In meeting Damien, we’re in turn introduced to the vast, overachieving Rosier family. The patriarch, Pépé, the beautiful, loving, original mother, Véro, Damien’s brothers and cousins, and their perfume-making talents, bad boys now settled all, sexy, alpha, and fiercely competitive. Damien is the businessman, the man who ensures that finances and deals keep their company above all others, the man who sacrifices his romantic, sensitive heart to give his family the freedom to create, the man who ensures that his beloved Grasse and everyone in it can make a good living from the perfume-making craft: “Damien hardened his heart. That was his heart’s job, right? To stay hard. Untouchable. Every member of a big family had to make his niche for himself, and ruthlessness was his.” Damien’s merciless persona leaves him wanting for love and tenderness. It also leaves him unable to articulate those needs. It saddens and blocks him. Jess is the woman who’s brought his secret yearnings to the surface. His hurt is ever deeper because she doesn’t see him differently from others, but as cold, emotionless. His woundedness is evident in the following wonderfully executed exchange:
“Then what’s worth you, Jess?’ That dangerously sensual menace, like the soft pad of a panther’s feet as it backed a mouse into a corner.
“A heart!” she said wildly. His fingers stilled on his cuff. His eyes lifted suddenly to hers, the sea just before dawn. Oh, God, what had she just admitted about her romantic, wistful insides? She yanked herself back from the counter. “Nothing you can give!”
“Well, obviously not if you want a heart,” he said sardonically. “You’re sure you wouldn’t accept a more practical form of currency for one of your perfumes? Hard to deposit a heart in a business account.”
In his words, Damien makes a point of living up to everyone’s worst expectations. But it is in his actions that Jess comes to recognize and love a different man.
And what is love but the recognition of the other’s softest, “secretest,” core: “Something stirred in her, so unexpected in a heart used to grief that she didn’t quite know what to do with it. A strange, archaic, wild and puzzled joy.” The first half of A Wish Upon Jasmine is about the heart’s re-awakening. And it is made, like the perfumes of Grasse, of tenderness and sensuality in Florand’s stunning prose. Once Damien and Jess move out of enemies territory, once they finally clear the air of the past and sweeten it with words’ perfume, the narrative stalls. There is a blip of misunderstanding near the end, but Florand is too conscious of that fall back to do anything but promptly set it aright. Thus, the last third of the novel suffers from a lack of tension and conflict. But the writing is still lovely, Jess and Damien are most sympathetic, and therein lie the reasons Miss Bates will return to Florand’s stories. With Miss Austen, Miss Bates says of Florand’s A Wish Upon Jasmine, it’s evident of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Laura Florand’s second novel in the La Vie en Roses series, A Wish Upon Jasmine, is self-published and has been available, at your preferred vendors, since Sept. 2nd. Miss Bates is grateful to the author for an e-ARC.