Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Monday, May 30, 2011

"Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" by Patrick Süskind

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille begins life as an unwanted baby boy in 18th century Paris. As he grows, he doesn't develop a conscience or an ethical set of values, but he does have the most amazingly well-developed sense of smell, allowing him to parse out thousands of individual scents. Lacking a moral compass along with any sort of body odor, Grenouille's ambition to create the ultimate perfume drives him to the murder of sweet innocent virgins.

Am I the only person in the world who thought this book was just a little bit ridiculous? I could handle the unscented boy with the most sensitive and talented olfactory nerves in the world, but there was a bit too much implausibility heaped on top of that. By the time I got to the (um, spoiler?) scent-induced town-wide orgy, I just had to laugh at how silly it all was. Maybe that's because I've never had the chance to participate in a town-wide orgy myself, scent-induced or no. But maybe that's because the concept is a bit too far-fetched.

In addition to the aforementioned need to suspend more disbelief than I found possible, there was not much in the way of character development. And I just have to mention that adult ticks have eight legs, not six. (Don't most people know this?) But I couldn't fault the writing, and the story itself was interesting (without ever reaching critical mass) and certainly unique.

The best part of this book may be the inscription I found in my used copy. Some poor sap wrote (among other things): "Behind the fascinating murder story is the notion that we are attracted to people not for their physical attributes or for their deep intellect, but for their 'fragrance' which we perceive unconsciously. Maybe I'm odd, but I find this concept somewhat sexy." And then the girl he gave it to sold the book. Guess she didn't like the way he smelled.


She said...

Ahahaha, I love the inscription. Very deep. Very deep, indeed.

Have you seen the movie? I found that the ridiculousness of the story was a bit more palatable through the film. I liked it and its quirkiness.

mummazappa said...

I thought this was an utterly brilliant macabre gem of a story, Grenouille is so repellant I loved it :-)

AJ said...

I read this years ago when it was a huge bestseller. I thought it was ridiculous in premise, plot, and character. I only finished it because I was sure there had to be some big pay-off at the end to justify the hype. Nope.

Ti said...

I read this years ago and thought it was pretty out there. Forgive the formatting... it was first posted in Blogger and then uploaded to WP and it got all weird.

Bellezza said...

I was first introduced to this book from a search I conducted on perfume, literally. It's one of my passions besides books, but the murder aspect has rather kept me away. Not that I don't like a good thriller, but this seems particularly gruesome. However, I think there's a lot to be said for being attracted to, or repelled by, scent. Apparently even babies can identify their mothers by smell. Fascinating stuff, perfected by Guerlain. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


I saw the movie and the book sounds just as bad. =(

The story suggested by the inscription is just priceless! It's certainly more entertaining, educational and edifying than the book itself.

Kathy said...

She--I guess I didn't even know there was a movie! But I just now looked it up on imdb. I'm kind of curious about it now. And I see Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman are in it, so it can't be *too* bad, can it?

Zap--yep, Grenouille was certainly repellent. But it sounds like you must have liked this book more than I did. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood for it. Did this book lead you to read anything else by Süskind?

AJ--Ha, I'm always that way--gotta finish every book *just in case*. I half wonder if I'll reach a point where I figure out that life is just to short to do that. (Haven't reached it yet, anyway!)

Ti--thanks for the link to your review--I would agree, "out there" is a pretty good description. Although, on the other hand, that also means it's unique. I don't think I've ever read another book quite like this one.

Bellezza--how great, that you have a passion for perfume! (Sounds like an *expensive* passion, though!) Have you ever gone to one of those places where you can create your own scent? Also--considering your love for perfume--you might actually want to give this book a try. Unless time has mellowed my memory of it, the murders themselves aren't very graphically depicted. And there is a LOT in the book about scents and perfume-making.

Enbrethiliel--So I guess the presence of Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman *didn't* mean a good movie in this case? Ah, too bad. But you're right--I loved the way the inscription added an extra dimension to my reading experience!