Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

Title: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Author: Patrick Suskind
ISBN: 9780375725845
Price: $15.00

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is not like you or I. Three things set him apart. One, he has an extraordinary sense of smell. Grenouille can identify types of trees, can tell you which cow in the field produced the milk served at breakfast, and can use this knowledge to create perfumes more magnificent than you can imagine. Two, Grenouille has no smell himself. No normal human odor is given off by him, nor has he ever produced a smell. And the third thing that sets Grenouille apart from you and I is that Grenouille is a murderer.

Set in 18th century France, Patrick Suskind's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. Orphaned almost immediately after his birth, Grenouille's incredible sense of smell sets him apart almost instantly, as does his lack of a smell. Grenouille progresses from curious child to violently obsessed young man. After leaving an orphanage and surviving a normally deadly job as a worker in a tannery, Grenouille finally becomes apprentice to a Parisian perfume maker. As Grenouille learns the tricks of the trade (and readers learn a thing or two about the fascinating world of perfume-making), he becomes obsessed not just with smell, but with creating it. He tries to capture the scent of glass, of copper, and finally, of an animal.
Grenouille has one goal in mind: create a perfume so dazzling, so absolutely captivating, that it invokes love itself in all who smell it. Grenouille himself has smelled such a scent once, coming from a girl on a rooftop, whom he kills. Now Grenouille is determined to find the scent again, and this time not be so reckless. This time, he will know how to capture the girl's scent, how to bottle it into the most enchanting perfume the world has ever seen.
Suskind's novel, first published in 1985, is fascinating on several levels. Readers are educated about the process of perfume-making, yet the author doesn't drag down the text with too much information. Scent can be powerful and Suskind is careful to rely primarily on scent, with a careful supplement of visual description. Readers, like Grenouille, "smell" as much of the novel as they see. The climax of the book (don't worry, we won't spoil it) is likely to shock and even horrify readers. Ironically, the climax is perhaps the least believable part of the book. Nonetheless, Perfume is an eerie, twisted book worthy of being read on a cold winter night, or perhaps a hot summer day, or any time that a particular scent comes calling.
--Kyla Paterno

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