Perfume by Patrick Suskind

Synopsis from Amazon:

Survivor, genius, perfumer, killer: this is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. He is abandoned on the filthy streets of Paris as a child, but grows up to discover he has an extraordinary gift: a sense of smell more powerful than any other human’s. Soon, he is creating the most sublime fragrances in all the city. Yet there is one odor he cannot capture. It is exquisite, magical: the scent of a young virgin. And to get it he must kill. And kill. And kill.

This book is beautiful and weird in equal amounts. It’s an extremely beautiful book, the writing, while heavy at times with descriptive pose, will draw you into it so much you won’t want to miss a single word. It took me about a week to read it (and it’s quite a small book) simply because I wanted to really absorb the information laid out among the pages. I, somewhat strangely, have a very poor sense of smell, and it’s not something that I really took any notice of until I read this book. The prose is almost exclusively based around olfaction, even when not describing the experiences of the main character, Grenouille. It paints a picture of Paris with smells so wonderfully dipicted that I felt convinced I would recognise Paris through my own inadequate nose.

The prose is an ample portion of the experience which constitutes this book – the actual storyline is most certainly not entirely what pulls it along. However, the storyline, when it clearly raises it’s head, is in posession of unusual features. It is by no means a realistic book, and it is entirely beyond my comprehension how this book is classed as a crime/murder/thriller type story. It is most certainly not about a man who chases virgins around Paris to kill them – the murders are secondary, portrayed as almost irrelevant (and they don’t really begin until quite late into the novel). Indeed, such is the skill of the author that the reader too begins to see these victims as irrelevant – what matters is acquiring a smell even more profound than those described so magnificently thusfar. The writing is so accomplished it draws the reader into Grenouille’s mind and introduces a rather twisted but glorious view of existence.

What matters is not how absurd the story becomes, and it does, it is the passion and the raw human instinct driving Grenouille towards what is most perfect for him in his corrupt world. I think any reader who fails to be carried along by this desire is missing the most fundamental effect of this book. The story becomes increasingly unlikely as it progresses until it reaches a most amusing but also most exquisite ending. There is some element of true perfection in what Grenouille achieves at the end of the novel – the creation of a scent so perfectly satisfying to one sense possessed by mere mortals, that it drives our most basic instincts wild. I personally found something ethereal in that, but perhaps I am reading into it too much. I think for all its incredibility the ending is the most apt one the author could have written, it is melancholic, bittersweet and impossible. Nothing leaves the heart longing like that which must be fundamentally denied to it, like perfection. I dare say this book is one I shall return to time and time again.

Rating: 10/10

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