An Informal Book Review:The Diary Of A Nose – Jean-Claude Ellena

After reading great things about this book, I bought it today – full retail price by the way!
I finished it in one day – as it’s so short, and was left pretty gobsmacked.

“This… this gets published?!”

I hope I don’t come across as too immature in my points, but here we go:

The book begins in the middle of numerous fragrance related projects of which we never really hear anything about. It also begins just after the completion of his latest iris for Hermessence, which apart from the choosing of the name Iris Ukiyoe, is never discussed. (The choosing of the name is mainly informing us of the difficult decision as to name it Ukiyo – or add on that extra e).

The projects which he mentions starting – including a mint cologne, and a women’s fragrance with a pear note up top (which is ironic considering Ellena consistently pushes forward that he doesn’t believe putting a gender on his fragrances in the book) - never get completed, we never fully hear of their development other than one or two lines as to what worked and what didn’t. These exerts are exceptionally brief and never anything but a couple of lines long. Nothing like for example the fascinating in-depth progression of Duchaufour’s work on Seville A l’Aube in The Perfume Lover. There is very, very little to do with life as a perfumer in the book.

So what is the book filled with? A mundane inner monologue.

In the middle of the book, we get almost a page worth of appreciation for a bowl. Yes, the bowl you eat soup out of – he begins to describe how perfect the shape is, the fact that “you can draw a bowl in one brush stroke”… It didn’t quite convince me and I wasn’t too sure what I was reading, but hey I went with it.
Also in his description on how he writes his formulas – oh wait, before I go into this, don’t think for a second you’ll get something scientific, or something that’ll make you go “wow I never thought of that”, or “what a great perspective!” – no, the way he writes is far more literal – with a pencil! He describes how he likes to use a pencil and paper, and that’s about all the insight we get into that.

However, he does bring this up again later on in the book near the end (when obviously there is little more to discuss), where he talks about his Moleskin notebook. He tells us he “likes how it fits into my pocket” and how the “elastic keeps the pages together”
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I’m sure I shouldn’t be writing this review becuase I’m struggling to quote anything directly (you’ll find out why in a bit) – the point is, the book would lead into numerous stories, and then end before anything happens. This happened in every diary entry – nothing came to a finale or a conclusion. Some diary entries were literally a short paragraph that at the end left me completely baffled as to it’s purpose in the book.

So towards the end of the book, after reading the LITERAL day-to-day activities of a perfumer (which I’m surprised didn’t include “Woke up and had a wash – was deep in thought”, I wait for some magic to happen – a fragrant revelation, an ingenious new idea that will leave me eager to find out more. Unfortunately it ends on almost a blank, there is no ending – it just happens.

What you are left with in the last few paragraphs is a list of accords and how to make them (oh brilliant, I have all these obscure aromachemicals at home…) - gardenia, different variants on chocolate, cherry etc. These pages fill about 1/10 of the book at the end. Reading these aroma chemicals means nothing to me.

And yes, abruptly, the book ends. Ermmmmm…. ok so I didn’t get any detailed insight into any fragrance this guy makes, none of his history (which I didn’t expect anyway), no back story on his most recent work, no completion of his ideas briefly discussed - or even insight into his experiments with the ingredients.
At the top of the page where the date is written, it would often state what country he was in… how did he get there? What else is he doing in Hong Kong and Japan other than appreciating the sliding doors? He mentions how one of his Jardin fragrances – he considers one of his most beautiful floral compositions… Why? Tell us why?!

What I discovered about Jean-Claude Ellena is he likes his Moleskin, pencils, bowls, japanese calligraphy, and questions he can’t answer (he does attempt to answer a difficult question in the book regarding “What makes a perfect fragrance”, but to no surprise, he does not quite manage).

I hate to be a kill joy – but this book is not for me. I think it’s always fair to read an alternative point of view – everyone is too nice these days!
Thankfully the suckers at Waterstones took my book back at the end of the day after I claimed it was “Clearly the wrong one…” >:D

Sorry guys.

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13 thoughts on “An Informal Book Review:The Diary Of A Nose – Jean-Claude Ellena

  1. Oh my God, that was laugh out loud funny! And as I was paging down the screen, there it was…the full Tilda Swinson. Classic. I just got out of a horribly dry and painful meeting at work and got back to my desk and I literally laughed out loud. I will never be able to look at a soup bowl the same way again. Thank you so much for providing me with an afternoon laugh!

    • Read the book, that’ll be more of a laugh!
      Hahaha. Glad you enjoyed it Steve :’)
      You’re day sounds dull – my day consisted of reading this book, and piercing lots of nipples, they were out in force today which was quite wierd…
      But yes, I couldn’t accept the fact I had paid money to read someone elses painfully boring inner monologue.

      • Mine may have been boring, but piercing nipples does not sound like fun. I hope you make a lot of money doing it!

      • Ahh nipples isn’t so bad, It’s funny seeing girls embarassed about getting their boobs out – it’s like, don’t get them done then :’)
        Make a lot of money? I can do with commission on certain things. Still, the small amount of bonus I get for having some dirty girl straddled on all fours with her flap cream soaking my thankfully gloved fingers while trying to screw a minute ball onto a steak sized forchette… sometiems doesn’t feel worth it :)
        All in all, I love my job haha.

      • Ewwwww, nasty. I just got some horrendous picture of someone like Kesha coming in all drunk and skanky wanting it done. Thanks, and this right before I’m about to have supper!

      • You hit the nail on the head. On the flipside, some huge jamaican lady came in recently for her giblets brought her young son with her (he had to wait outside obviously) and she told him she was getting her ears pierced :| Who takes out their kid for a day like that?!
        We do get some lovely people in though who are a joy to put holes in :)
        Anyway, enough rambling.
        Yeh this book’s not worth reading :)
        Enjoy your supper Steve!

  2. poodle says:

    One day to read it? Well, there’s one day of your life that you can’t get back. That book is not going on my reading list but between your review and the comments I may bookmark this page just to get a laugh now and then. I’m inspired now to go out and get a moleskin notebook and some pencils and someday I too will wax poetic about some mundane aspect of my day and get it published. Too funny! Glad you got to return it at least.

    • Haha! That’s exactly it, you’d have to be a raging super-fan to appreciate it…
      “:| Omg…. JCE uses pencils just like me”
      But yes, of course I have been picking out mere sentences out of a short book – but trust me, the content is so transparent (like is fragrances really) that once read, it is immediately forgotten.
      Probably the best perfume book I have read recently is Mandy Aftel’s Essence & Alchemy… I’ll read that again soon and review it, much more insightful :)

  3. laniersmith says:

    What a great review! Clearly you are the writer and Jean Claude Ellena is not! Thanks for steering me clear of this book. I think I will stick to Chandler Burr and Luca Turin.

  4. Mark Evans says:

    Thanks a lot, I just sprayed tea all over my keyboard when I scrolled down to Tilda Swinson! LOL
    I haven’t read this one, but I was similarly disappointed with JCE’s Perfume – The Alchemy of Scent. I had to skip a lot of it as I couldn’t bring myself to wade through school text book prose.
    I suspect that his publicers just wanted to cash in on his short lived fame while they could.

    • Yay! Agreement haha.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the read :’)
      Yup! It was quite painful for me to read, I read it in one day at work and I think my boss got annoyed by my constant tutting and putting the book down and picking it up and tutting more haha.
      Real pompous nonsense most of it.
      Other things like, he mentions how he sat on a plane next to a lady who “smelt like cigarettes but covered it with VC&A First” he goes on “I can pick up on the smallest natural scents” blah blah – not even a mention on how he feels that the lady sitting next to him is wearing HIS fragrance, he doesn’t care, it’s just trying to prove his “artistic mind” in the whole book, really not a fun read. Ah well!

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