Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Perfume by by Patrick Süskind - Book Review #107

Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
by Patrick Süskind

In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift-an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille's genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and fresh-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the "ultimate perfume"—the scent of a beautiful young virgin. Told with dazzling narrative brilliance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity.
From goodreads.com

I read Perfume because I loved the movie and also because the world of smells is very important to me. I quite often use olfaction to distinguish or remember events, people or feelings. No, I cannot smell people like Jean-Baptiste Grenouille could, though I usually remember their perfume, or smell of soap; I can remember the scent of the blossoming jasmine outside of my window while I was talking to someone on the phone; or perhaps the smell of ozone just before the rain starts and odor of wet dirt after it is over while I was reading some book on lanai.

My only problem with scents was always my inability to actually describe it. So my descriptions usually go as: it smells like a dream; it is a smell of victory; this is the scent of late March; or this is how the mid summer afternoon smells. Maybe because of this my inability I was so much impressed with Perfume. Patrick Susskind’s skill to describe smells (any smells – pleasant or utterly disgusting) is amazing. He could not only make me understand what he was talking about, he actually made me smell it.

"Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it."

Perfume is probably the only book that deals with scents on such level. The scent is a main character in this novel, not Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who is merely a this scent‘s guide to our world. That’s why I disagree with the second part of the book title (The Story of a Murderer). No, Grenouille did commit murders, but only to achieve his goal, which completely unrelated to these murders. Patrick Süskind not revealing anything about murder victims: we don’t know who they were, what their interests were, what they dreamed about, who they loved or hated; in most cases we don’t even know their names. In this situation it is almost impossible to care about these victims as people, we made by Süskind to only care about their scent, same as Grenouille does.

I enjoyed the ending of the book beyond any reason – an utter grotesque on one hand, and on the other, something breathtakingly beautiful:

“For the first time they had done something out of Love.”

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the world of fragrance. Süskind did a tremendous research to deliver us the knowledge how the perfumery business worked in eighteen-century, including detailed descriptions of different techniques. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading something completely original. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for strong emotions, because Perfume undeniably delivers that.

"He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men."


titania86 said...

I just finished Perfume and I totally agree about the ending. Beautiful and disturbing at once. It's a pretty unforgettable novel.

Anonymous said...

As a matter of fact, the novel is a political sattire. There was an article long back how the events in the novel intertwined with some French history. Unfortunately you could see only the surface not the inner depth !!

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