Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (1985) by Patrick Süskind is an interesting and original book in the crime and historical genres. It is translated wonderfully by John E. Woods.
Following the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille and set in 18th century France, the young Grenouille, living in the slums, has already an excellent sense of smell. As he grows older he becomes an apprentice to a well-established perfumer who teaches him the tricks of the trade. But soon his obsession with smell becomes overpowering and he has a desire to capture the smell of various objects like wood which is newly-cut. But then what originally was a harmless interest or harmless obsession soon turns sinister when his sense of smell is caught by the scent of a young female virgin and soon he is killing females in the pursuit of the scent he desires for his perfume.
It is quite a haunting and terrifying book. With Grenouille as the main character we see a lot of the book through his perspective and it is harrowing. He is an evil, sexually depraved and very obsessional person and he is also a very egotistical character who believes he can do whatever he wants and get away with it. A very complex and fascinating character for a book, wouldn’t like to run into a real version of him in a darkened alley though! This story takes a look at the depraved mind and can’t have been easy for Süskind to write. It has a very honest and indepth feel to it. The story is also very fresh and original and it is brilliantly written. Grenouille strikes me as a very lonely and isolated character who in a very weird way I think thinks when he captures these women he is gaining a closeness to another human being. While not every person who is lonely, isolated and doesn’t belong is going to go out and kill a lot of people it shows that with some people that loneliness can drive them strange. Though my fear is that some other readers might see this as an excuse to give to Grenouille which I think would be outrageous. While to me it isn’t an excuse, it does show the reasoning behind why he is acting in such a way but there’s definitely something in him too that leads him to act on the weird fantasies which have come into his head. Yes this book is very psychological!
In all Grenouille kills 25 women to try to create his scent and the ending is surreal and just as original as the rest of the book. There is a lot of issues in this story like ambition getting the better of someone and the want to have a purpose and all of these feelings in Grenouille has come to have drastic consequences. That whole thing of ‘to be somebody’ at all costs and Grenouille very much strikes me as being like that. So long feeling invisible he now wants to be very visible and he’s willing to kill to be so. It’s very heavy stuff but amazingly written. There is also the superficial element. Grenouille seems to believe peoples’ lives aren’t worth anything in comparison to creating a scent and that all kind of ties into that whole idea of beauty at all costs. I think there is a bit of a metaphor there. The book very obviously deals with a very important issue of people, women in this case, being in danger from unsuspecting weirdos and Grenouille would most certainly make readers cautious of possible real-life people like Grenouille which is a very good thing.
Süskind writes here in a very poetic style. At times it reads like a long poem. He leaves no stone unturned and writes a realistic picture of the various difficult and deep topics in this book. It’s a complex and wonderfully written book.
A great read. Brilliantly written.
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