Thursday 25 December 2008

A book never smelled so good...

Perfume: The story of a murderer by Patrick Suskind was published in 1985, originally in German. It is quite unlike any other novel I have read in recent memory, and is considered by some to be a 'modern classic'. It was recommended to me a couple of years ago by a good friend of mine, and so once this academic year finished and I went on my end of semester book binge I made sure that this book was among those I acquired. 

Grenouille, the protagonist of this novel, was born into the most rancid and unwelcoming of environments - under the table of a fish gutting stall in the middle of 18th century Paris. His mother, not viewing him, her fifth unplanned pregnancy, as a "real child", simply birthed him and then got back up to get on with her life leaving him for dead amongst the fish offal and blood on the ground. Unlike her previous four children, however, Grenouille refuses to die in such undignified circumstances. 

He has no personal odour to speak of, yet has an unsurpassed sense of smell. In fact, smell is the only thing that exists for him. Although one might be tempted to sympathise with a baby born into such unfortunate circumstances to such a callous mother, it is soon abundantly clear that Grenouille is only out for himself and his own gains. He does not care for the company of others and in fact actively avoids it, going to extreme lengths to do so at one stage. The only thing he is interested in getting from  human society is a certain smell... the delicate fragrance of a virgin girl. 

I find this novel an interesting blend of the historical novel and a character study. Grenouille is a truly fascinating character, one who inspires only fear and repulsion from the reader - or me at least! I'd be interested to know if anyone who has read this novel feels any sympathy for this guy. He's sub-human, and yet super-human. He lacks a souls, but possesses an amazing gift. There is literally nothing to like about him, although I guess one could wonder at and perhaps admire his determination and will to survive. 

One thing I have noticed since reading this book is that it has deepened my appreciation for my sense of smell.  Suddenly I have started taking note of things that I had previously not given a second thought. It's opened my nose - something a book has never done before!! Opened minds, yes. Opened eyes to unknown things, yes. My nose? This is a first! 

A book never smelled so good!


  1. I liked da movie. I nothing insightful or witty to say. I am a literary retard. Why am I writing this?

  2. I'm so glad I won this. It really does sound fantastic! It's always interesting to read about an unlikable or fearsome protagonist.
    I'm glad to hear that it works as historical fiction as well.

  3. Hi Brizmus! Thanks for the comment :) I really liked the historical fiction element of this book - eye opening account of what Paris was like back in the day... Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on it when you review it!