Tuesday, November 18, 2014


In the book I’m reading, a character who is much belittled wears the same fragrance I do, and I can’t help but feel insulted. The character, Sylvia, is the sister-in-law of the protagonist of Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, a novel about a historian ruminating on her past from a nursing home bed. 

Sylvia “has devoted herself to children and houses. A nice old-fashioned girl, Mother called her, seeing quite correctly through the superficial disguise of pink fingernails, swirling New Look skirts and a cloud of Mitsouko spray.”

Mitsouko, I gasp. I wear Mitsouko! And the thing about Mitsouko is it’s ravishing. Ingrid Bergman wore it. Anais Nin wore it. Jean Harlow wore it, and her husband doused himself with it before committing suicide. So, you know, I’m kind of feeling that Mitsouko hardly needs me to defend it. Undeterred by a few raised eyebrows, even Charlie Chaplin was known to splash it on. 

And yet here is Sylvia, the wife of a man who works “himself into the ground, when it is a matter of the intellect. His laziness is more subtle than that, it is a laziness of the soul, and Sylvia is its manifestation. Gordon needs Sylvia like some people need to spend an hour or two a day simply staring out the window…”

Of course I see that Mitsouko was considered part of a disguise, being, I suppose, more sophisticated than Sylvia. Perhaps as the book progresses and the true Sylvia emerges wearing a stodgier scent, I won’t feel so intimately wounded.

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