“Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” by Patrick Suskind
Anyone who is looking for a psychologically enveloping novel that makes you sympathize with the murderer (for once).
Upon viewing the title of this week’s novel, “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” some assumptions can be made as to the nature of the story. However, most — if not all — of them are wrong. The main character’s name is not Perfume (it’s actually Jean-Baptiste Grenouille) nor is that the name of any other character in the book. And he doesn’t murder people with some sort of aerosolized poison in perfume form (which is where our minds first went). The story that author Patrick Suskind weaves is much more complicated and intriguing than that.
Grenouille is a man who is born without his own scent. He gives off no odor of any kind, which is made even more impressive by the fact that the novel is set in France right around the time of its first revolution. As the town in Europe with the largest population and subpar bathing habits, everything and everyone of the time stank — but not Grenouille. This anomaly is made up by his inhuman sense of smell. He can not only take in the everyday scents that the rest of the populace can, but he can pick apart what his nose takes in, decomposing it into the smallest units of odor and the most basic elements of smell.
From his childhood onward, Grenouille becomes enraptured by the countless smells that he can discern and sets out to build an encyclopedic knowledge of all of these pieces. His turning point occurs when he encounters a smell that makes him feel emotion for the first time. While before this instance he had never experienced any sort of real feeling for anything other than revulsion at some of the stinks surrounding Paris, the girl that he comes across slicing plums brings him to his knees and makes him desperate for more. He realizes that true happiness lies within the perfect scent given off by this girl.
The rest of the novel unfolds the tumultuous journey of Grenouille. It follows him through his initial training in perfumes with the bumbling master Baldini — training that only serves to heighten Grenouille’s desire to acquire more knowledge. As he departs, he manages to take a seven-year rest in a cave on a mountainside to escape the persistent odor of other humans. The realization that he possesses no scent of his own drives him onward to the town of Grasse, where master perfumers are made. Here he begins his process to elicit the perfect odor from the most beautiful girl in town.
The constant juxtaposition of the innocence of Grenouille’s intentions and his resulting murderous actions make for very interesting and quick reading. The narrator lends himself to Grenouille’s perspective, which allows the reader to actually believe that he or she understands why Grenouille does the terrible things that he does. We should also mention that the ending of this book is quite unlike anything we’ve ever read (or probably will ever read again) and definitely induces the shock factor.
Image Source: Danica Steinhauser under Creative Commons.
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