Is Patrick Suskind’s horrible and ingenious tale of young Jean-Baptiste Grenouille who has an extraordinary sense of smell and an obsession with finding and bottling the essence of perfection.
Suskind writes as the young man’s shadow, a technique that works perfectly as he takes us into the murderer’s mind, a fascinating thing because he sees the world through his nose, as it were.
Grenouille isn’t introduced immediately as the single-minded killer he turns out to be. Instead we follow his journey from orphaned boyhood in Paris to the faubourgs of northern France, and learn more than we bargained for about the business of perfumery in the 1700s. Suskind never lets up on the evocative images and smells -never before has a story delighted and revolted all my senses like this one did.
What is surprising is that I wasn’t once struck with revulsion at Grenouille’s sick quest – you find yourself going from pity to wonder to confusion and only occasionally, disgust. So well written is Suskind’s tale that it is hard to lose (what I think is) his message. Beneath the horror of a man who had to murder young girls to bottle their innocence – if such a thing were ever possible – I believe Perfume is a story about duplicity of belief.
The climactic scene of Grenouille’s public killing for his crimes turns into a rapturous orgy of worship – and yet Grenouille who has wanted this all his life wonders how people can worship what they do not understand – only he with the superhuman sense of smell knew that they adored his innocence, and yet the crowd believes they are in adoration of Grenouille himself.
Their adoration is rendered even more superficial because Grenouille doesn’t exist without the scent of innocence. Having no smell of his own, he has floated through life virtually unnoticed and strangely, everyone he comes into contact with dies.
Perfume is a grotesque caricature of our morality that will delight and shock you and make you think.
Plugging alert: I am loving Princess’ new book blog Book Lugambo!