Friday, July 22, 2011

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a MurdererPerfume: The Story of a Murderer – Patrick Süskind
Evan’s ESS = 5 out of 10
Erin’s ESS = out of 10
Content = R (Adult Content, Violence, Language, Sexual Content, Human Hibernation)

"Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it."

Why:  We can honestly say that Patrick Süskind has taken the art of olfaction further than anyone else in the world of fiction.  Unfortunately, we found that maybe this topic is better left underappreciated....

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born a sickly boy with no body scent and a superhuman sense of smell.  Weird combinations, but just go with it for now...  Over the years, Grenouille learns to refine his uncommon nasal abilities and becomes a very talented perfume maker.  He also happens to develop a flavor for murder and a singular fascination with preserving the odors from a recently murdered corpse.  It takes more than a few attempts to refine his technique...  Before long, his ambitions and ego lead him down a path to develop a scent so perfect and so powerful that he will be able to control the deepest of human desires.     

If the above summary of Perfume comes across a little creepy, then we apologize for not articulating our thoughts very well.  Our hope was to come across ALOT creepy.  Yes, the full title of this novel (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) helped us set our expectations accordingly, yet no warning could have prepared us for what was to come near the end.  *blushing*  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves... 

Perfume is a unique book and in some ways unlike anything we’ve ever read.  With so much focus given to the scent of smell, it was interesting to look at different situations and settings through the lens of this underappreciated sense.  The narrative was also effective in showing just how powerful the scent of smell can be and the writing itself was beautiful and deep.  We also enjoyed the provocative look into the ancient art of perfume development and production.  Really, the entire first half the novel was fascinating if not groundbreaking in the genre of olfactory fiction.  Unfortunately, things took a pretty ugly turn.

Two things.  The idea of controlling entire populations with an intoxicating scent was a bit much – especially when you consider the effect of said scent being released into the open.  Also, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was a little too creepy for our tastes.  The main character was just... yuck.  Technically, a character who displays the characteristic of yuck, means the author has done a admirable job.  In the case of Grenouille...  not so much (how long does an individual need to stay in a state of semi-hibernation living off bugs?).

In summary: very high points for uniqueness and very high points for creepiness.  In this case, the later isn’t a good thing. 


  1. I remember when this book was published and how it made a splash in the literary thriller world. I didn't read it then, and after watching the film adaptation and reading your review, I have no interest in reading it now. I thought your review was spot-on for the way I felt about the film.

  2. I really enjoyed Perfume, though I agree it had it was chock full of weirdness and unpleasant scenes. It reminded me of a very dark Eastern European fairy tale.

  3. This is one of the few books I HATED. It dragged on forever, and was just generally creepy - and the final scene?! I felt it was totally unbelievable and one of the most disturbing things I've ever read (and not in a good way).

  4. I loved Perfume! But I'm kind of sick that way. ;)