Perfume & Pain by Anna Dorn: ARC review

Perfume & Pain by Anna Dorn

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the e-ARC and the chance to read this book early. All thoughts are my own.

Overview: Astrid Dahl dropped out of law school to be a novelist, and her career leap of faith has paid off ever since. She's published multiple books, had them optioned to become movies, and managed to make an adulthood solely supported by literary pursuits. But Astrid is also battling addiction issues and an inability to skirt putting her foot in her mouth in public. She's been minorly cancelled more times than she can count both publicly online and in her own writing group. Astrid wants to get her life together; she wants to be a better person. But she's not entirely sure how to do that. Overall: 4

Characters: 4 Astrid is that perfect archetype of the "unlikable" character. She says and does plenty of things that are objectively not great. She doesn't care all that much about who she hurts with what she says, and she's incredibly self-centered. But she's not irredeemable by any means. There is something that I at least found very compelling about Astrid's tries and fails at figuring out her life. If we're being super honest, I relate a certain amount to Astrid's accidental abrasiveness as she navigates her relationships. I found her compelling throughout the book, and I wanted to see her ultimately succeed. 

The other characters that fill out Astrid's world are detailed and interesting, but I feel like they're better experienced through reading the book yourself than me trying to describe them.

Plot: 4 This is a pretty slice of life oriented story with some larger-than-life LA characters that give the book a propulsive energy. It also has great pacing, so even though we're only charting Astrid's progress to become more of the person she wants to be, the book is a fast read. Despite my life being super busy as I was reading this book, I tried to make time most days to read a few pages and that usually turned into a few chapters going late into the night because I was so enthralled, particularly by Astrid's voice and way of viewing the world. 

The book is vivid and full of energy. My only negative comment when it comes to the story arc is that there's a chapter around 88% of the way through the book that would've been the perfect ending, but then the book goes on for quite a few more chapters and starts to drag for the first time. It felt like the author was over-explaining the ending and didn't quite trust the reader enough. She crafted the perfect, slightly ambiguous but satisfying ending and then decided to steamroll right through that to give a much more explicit finale.

Writing: 4 Perfume and Pain is making me want to read all of Anna Dorn's other books. The characters are so rich and interesting. She does a good job of writing about a writer, which can sometimes be difficult to pull off. I also appreciate how certain themes and ideas are woven through the entirety of the novel like how Astrid's obsession with lesbian pulp novels manifests in the story in a number of surprising and interesting ways. The little callbacks throughout the book made it feel perfectly tied together and thematically aware of itself. 

Writing a good book about a writer who is trying to write a book is a difficult, yet much attempted, feat. I feel like Perfume and Pain strikes a perfect balance of self awareness, detail on an insider look at publishing, and external story to make the book work. 

More on Reading, Writing, and Me:

NetGalley Book Tag

Filterworld nonfiction review

April 2024 Reading Wrap Up

The Book of Ayn review

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