Gisèle Pineau

(Mercure de France, 256 pages, 2018)


Siréna Pérole is a free spirit who lives by her own rules. In the close-knit Guadeloupean village of St. Robert, her eccentric behavior and captivating beauty fascinate men and arouse envy in women. On Bastille Day, Siréna’s cousin, Ida, discovers her lifeless body with Siréna’s two-year-old son, Gaby, playing in a pool of her blood. The vivid and gory details of Siréna’s death make it worthy of the murder scenes in the American detective series Ida avidly watches on TV. The community receives the news of her death with hidden sorrow and malevolent glee. Many wish to forget Siréna, but the passing of time will not erase the void—and the secrets—she leaves behind.

 In the wake of Siréna’s death, her family must reconcile themselves with the permanent mark she left on their lives. Set against the backdrop of their land—a lush and bountiful paradise invaded by squatters and devastated by hurricanes—Gisèle Pineau paints a richly textured portrait of the Pérole family. She traces their history from the hardworking ancestors who secured the family’s fortune in the 1910s, to the siblings scattered in France and Canada, and to those who stayed at home, like Gaby, now a gentle and idle Rasta haunted by his mother’s memory.

Pascale says

“Like a lingering perfume, the Sirèna's death haunts her relatives. A poetic and intoxicating novel down to its cathartic conclusion.”

 In The Perfume of Mermaids, Pineau returns to some of her favorite themes: the plight of women, the conditions of exile, and all the things we carry with us, consciously and unconsciously, when we leave home. In this novel, not even the younger generations born abroad can escape their ancestors’ legacy. Pineau’s poetic writing captures her love for the exuberant tropical nature of her ancestral island. Her appreciation for its diversity and beauty mirrors her ever-attentive respect for human diversity, which, like that of nature, is always under threat.


Gisèle Pineau is a French-Guadeloupean novelist and writer. She has published numerous critically acclaimed novels translated into several languages. Among those translated into English are A Taste of Eternity: A Novel (Texas Tech University Press, 2014), Devil’s Dance (Bison Books, 2003), and Exile According to Julia (University of Virginia Press, 2003).