Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Perfume - Patrick Suskind


Rating : 4.5/5
Number of Pages : 263
Reason for Reading : Book Awards Reading Challenge

Subtitled "The story of a murderer" you know you are in for something not particularly pleasant. It tells the story of a man (Jean-Baptiste Grenouille) who is born amid a rubbish dump and whose mother then abandon's him in France. He lets out a mighty cry and his body is discovered and his mother found and hanged for her crime. As a result he is moved around different wet-nurses, each of which gets rid of him again as he is so greedy and they are unsettled by his lack of smell. He is finally sent to a boarding house where the owner has no sense of smell and is not put off her new charge, treating him as fairly as she treats the other children. It is not a pleasant time, but Grenouille sets his mind to getting on with life and is never heard complaining. His fellow students try to kill him a couple of times, they too are mistrustful of his lack of personal odour and it turns out that Grenouille has an uncanny sense of smell.

Eventually he is sent to work in a tanners yard doing all the most hazardous and disgusting jobs as he is the most expendable. He survives anthrax poisoning and gains some extra status before leaving and working for master perfumer, Giuseppe Baldini. There he can use his incredible sense of small to mix up new and exotic perfumes Baldinin then sells as his own. On walking through the town one day he smells an exquisite smell which he follows. It turns out to be a young red-haired girl on the cusp of puberty. To keep the smell with him he commits his first murder, but has no way of physically preserving her smell. He sets out on a series of failed experiments to bottle human and animal smells.

Again surviving a deadly illness he sets out in search of new ways of distilling scents outside the scope of the usual plants. He spends a number of years living in a cave before rejoining human society and succeeding in his goal. He has found another girl with a similar irresitible smell and has two years to perfect his technique. He practices on other young girls, killing them and removing their clothes and hair. He also spends tim emaking a series of personal perfumes to give himself different smells, one to render him invisible one to make others take notice and respect him and yet another to get people to avoid him.

It is a chilling, fatastical tale. Definiltely worth reading for it is beautifully crafted and the language flows wonderfully. Describing the smells of simple everyday things like money, different kinds of wood, breast milk etc was very sensual and I liked the idea of him making his different personal smells that people would inhale but not realise they were being manipulated by their noses. It reminded me of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov in some ways. It was a difficult subject matter about a man with no remorse (in this he has no concept of morals and right and wrong as we sense it), but the way the tale is told makes it a classic.

5 comments:

jenclair said...

It is funny that I've heard the title of this novel for so long, and I never really knew what it was about. It isn't at all what I thought!

Nymeth said...

I really need to read this one. People have been telling me too for years, and it seems that it's with good reason.

Chris said...

I've been wanting to read this one! It sounds really good. I saw the previews for the movie not long ago and I know it's out on DVD now, but I want to read the book first before I see the movie. Let me know how the movie is if you see it.

Melody said...

Like the others, I've been wanting to read this but just haven't got around to getting it. I'm glad you enjoyed this; looks like I've to read the book!

Alice Teh said...

I have heard a lot about this book and would love to get it one day, very soon.