Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind
translated by John E Wood
originally published 1986
Vintage, 23rd printing, 2001
Genre: Horror, magical realism, literary fiction, suspense
Synopsis & Review: On July 17, 1738, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born at the most putrid place in Paris, in all of France. Born to a mother who not only did not want him, but fully intended to discard her newborn son just as she had her four previous children, Grenouille cried out spitefully, gathering the attention of the crowd around her fish stall, and thereby condemned his mother to death. From there he was taken into the care of the government, and then religious authorities, going through four wet-nurses in rapid succession. The infant is a greedy monster, devouring twice as much as the other infants, sucking the wet nurses dry of their assets. This, along with his bizarre lack of personal odor, causes Grenouille to be passed along until he lands in the care of Madame Gaillard. Lacking any sense of smell herself, Mme Galliard doesn’t notice Grenouille’s lack, treating him the same as any other child in her care. His peers, however, recognize him as an alien, a monster, and alternately shun and attempt to murder him, setting a pattern for his life.
For Grenouille is a monster born, and his lack of scent is a warning for people to avoid him, one they often cannot mark in a world filled with stenches and overlaid with perfumes. But Grenouille is also blessed with a singular sense of smell, able to recognize changes in weather, a person’s imminent arrival, or the location of lost objects. When he realizes what scents are, he is driven to accumulate them, to catalog every scent in Paris. The discovery of the most thrilling, enticing, beautiful scent leads Grenouille to his first murder, and also into the arts of perfume making, as he is determined to capture and recreate that perfect scent for himself, leaving a wake of destruction in his path.
I was not that impressed by the film version of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. It was pretty to look at, and there was definitely an interesting story, but there was no magic; it was curiously sterile. But, it still made me want to read the novel it was based on. Which, I might add, took me FOREVER to acquire. Every time I put a hold request on it, the hold would simply disappear. And then one day, after three months of irritation, it suddenly appeared, ready for pick up! I was really excited when Eli brought it home, but also a little concerned. What if Perfume was another The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which started out promisingly, then became The Unbearable Fucking Czech Novel that Makes Me Feel Bad and Irritable Through No Fault of Its Own? (And which I still have not yet finished. I am a bad, lazy reader.) Well, it wasn’t. Read the rest of this entry »