Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind
Opening sentence: “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.”
When I posted a picture of this book on Instagram last week and mentioned that I had started to read it, I was taken aback by the overwhelming response! Perfume holds a special place in a lot of people’s reading history, so many said they loved it and now, I would have to agree with them.
Perfume catapults us into the world of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. A most unusual man – born with no natural scent of his own, but with a nose that can identify any smell for miles around. He is a fascinating, insular character, who has a sinister air around him at all times and is essentially highly unlikeable. And yet – you can’t help but want to find out more about him and discover his story.
The sub-title of the book tells us that he is a murderer, but he is like no other. He is so obsessed by capturing smells – specifically those naturally given off by young, beautiful women – that he will do anything to have them. So although when you start reading, you know the sinister turn the narrative will take, this does not make it any less gripping. There are more than enough other twists and ideas to keep you hooked, including the interesting and amusing stories of the secondary characters and the effect (never on purpose) that Grenouille has on their lives.
It is wonderfully written, the descriptions of the smells truly conjure them up for you, “Her sweat smelled as fresh as the sea breeze, the tallow of her hair as sweet as nut oil, her genitals were as fragrant as the bouquet of water lilies, her skin as apricot blossoms… and the harmony of all these components yielded a perfume so rich, so balanced, so magical, that every perfume that Grenouille had smelled until now, every edifice of odours that he had so playfully created within himself, seemed at once to be utterly meaningless.”
I also really enjoyed discovering the perfume creating process (as his whole world revolves around smells, it’s only natural that Grenouille would take up the trade) and how intricate an art it really is.
This is quite unlike any book I’ve come across before, a truly unique read with a very satisfying (although twisted and perverse along the way) story arc.