Perfume

A book review
by Chris Hibbard

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

Being a big fan of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, when I heard a few months back that this was one of his favorite books, I scurried out and found myself a copy, not having any idea what I was getting myself into.

I’ll let the plot speak for itself. A young orphan on the streets of Paris has a sense of smell that is so powerful he can distinguish a single scent among a world full of stench and smell. Eventually, he is raised to be become the assistant to a butcher, where he learns to slaughter animals, to assisting a perfume maker, who takes advantage of the boy’s talent (which is also his curse).

Since the boy, named Grenouille, can even identify individual people from their own unique scents, he slowly becomes obsessive, and begins to collect the “essences” of his favorite smells. He does this by killing people, stripping their skin from their bones, and boiling them down perfume oil, which he then keeps for him, and sells to an unwitting general public for big bucks.

The book is beautifully written, utilizing the full vocabulary of the English language (though it was originally written in French) to describe all the smells around us that we take for granted every day. Some of these details ‘scents’ and ‘stenches’ were so vividly described that I thought I could smell them coming off the pages of the book, for better and for worse. For weeks after reading this book I was more aware of the smells around me than I had ever been, and even caught myself sniffing the air, trying to pinpoint the sources of various odors. I also now know far more about the arts of butchering and the sciences of perfume making than I ever wanted to, or thought I would know.

While this is interesting in itself, I must say, this book is also heavy on description when it comes to the murders. The hero (or antihero, as a better term) is not easy to like. He seems to have no soul, is utterly depraved, and massively arrogant, especially by the very end – an ending you would have to read to believe.

Author’s note: a well-done albeit toned-down film version of the novel is available on DVD, entitled Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

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~ by Chris Hibbard on October 31, 2008.

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