Patrick Süskind – Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Book Review)

suskind murderer book reviewOpening Line: In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages.

Book Cover Blurb: His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, and if his name has been forgotten today, it is certainly not because Grenouille fell short of those more famous blackguards when it came to arrogance, misanthropy, immorality, or, more succinctly, wickedness, but because his gifts and his sole ambition were restricted to a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of scent…

Genre: Horror / Humour / Literary Fiction

Sample Passage:

The most precious thing that Richis possessed however was his daughter. She had a face so charming that visitors of all ages and both sexes would stand stock-still at the sight of her, unable to pull their eyes away, practically licking that face with their eyes, the way tongues work at ice-cream, with that typically stupid, single minded expression on their faces that goes with concentrated licking.

Review 

This was a strange book! I was expecting a fast paced thriller with the protagonist being hunted for his various grisly crimes, a Jack the Ripper of France. Instead, I found a lot of dark humour and half the book centred around the main character concocting all sorts of potions and scents for various purposes under different guises.

I would have finished the book quicker than I did, but the plot didn’t hook me. That being said though, Grenouille is certainly a colourful character – born on the streets from a fishmonger and destitute mother, moments before she is sentenced to death, the crippled little urchin is passed around reluctant guardians who want nothing to do with him.

He soon realises that he has to carve his own way in the world, and our anti-hero uses the rare gift he’s been blessed with – an incredibly astute sense of smell to lead to a range of interesting locations supported by a medley of memorable characters.

The first half of the book takes place primarily in Paris amid plenty of choice smells to tickle your olfactory tastes (open street sewers) where perfumers, we are led to believe were the rock stars of their day, amassing fame and fortune far beyond their bordered lands. The illiterate and uneducated boy soon soon climbs the social ranks to curry favour with other people he can use to continue his laboratory experiments.

It’s a very odd book but beautifully written in places, and the range of emotions that are brought to the surface from some of the aromatic descriptions are like a library of scents unto themselves. The author makes the world very believable and you buy into it by the time the bizarre but hilarious conclusion comes into effect.

Grenouille’s cold analytical approach, assembling and categorising scents is very compelling and described beautifully. Although he is a murderer without remorse, I couldn’t help but admire his passion and enthusiasm for the dedication to his craft. Something us aspiring writers could strive to (minus the homicidal tendencies mind you).

Overall, dark and amusing but a little laboured in places with the plot really driving forward in the last half dozen chapters.


 

Author: Patrick Süskind
Other Books Written: The Pigeon, Mr. Summers Story
Time to Complete: 3 Weeks
Interesting Fact: The song “Scentless Apprentice”, by Nirvana, was inspired by Perfume. It appears on their 1993 album In Utero. Kurt Cobain often described the novel as one of his favourite books, in an interview on August 10, 1993 in Seattle, Washington (source).
Rating – 7 /10

Next Book
The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
Part of the BBC Big Read 100 List

image credit tubla.ca

3 thoughts on “Patrick Süskind – Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Book Review)

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