Title: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Author: Patrick Suskind, Translated by: John E. Woods
Genre: Historical Fiction – Fantasy
Synopsis: In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift — an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille’s genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and fresh-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the “ultimate perfume” — the scent of a beautiful young virgin. Told with dazzling narrative brillance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity.
This is one of those rare books that even though I read it years ago certain scenes are still vivid in my mind because Suskind takes such care to paint such eloquent pictures that you can’t help but be haunted by this strange yet beautiful story. Our novel opens with one of the most tangible descriptions of the stench which covered poor Parisian streets during the 18th century that I have ever read. Grenouille is born to a peasant fish-seller and he plops between her legs into a pile of fish and the narrative is so rich that you can already see how this will grow up to be a most disturbed individual. We quickly learn that despite all the smells around him Grenouille has zero body odor himself and this disturbs normal humans around him, this sets him up to grow up without kind words, despised by most as strange and demonic.
Despite having no odor of his own Grenouille’s nose is uncanny and as he grows he gets an apprenticeship with a perfumer which embarks both his glory and his downfall. This book does weave a touch of magical realism, however Suskind brilliantly focuses on one character and animates him beautifully despite the horrible things he does and his twisted way of thinking. I highly recommend this if you want something well sculpted and perfectly executed. This is not a story where you will feel pity for Grenouille, Grenouille doesn’t even feel pity for himself but you will appreciate the pacing, the arena where all of Suskind’s beautiful words are arranged. It’s a rather disturbing look at France during this time and it’s nestled perfectly in 263 pages.