on March 12, 2000
In 18th century France, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, born with no scent of his own, but with with a supernatural ability to detect the scent of others is driven to murder in order to create the perfect perfume. This extraordinarily original premise encompasses the most elegant, aristocratic and erotic novel I have ever read. Flawlessly written and drenched in irony, Perfume tells a haunting tale of a man reminiscent of the Phantom of the Opera, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Beauty and the Beast (beast), and even Faust. Amd finally! A writer with enough talent to let us experience Grenouille's thoughts and emotions. Although, of course, identification with him is impossible, (Grenouille is the most chilling character in literature) I did manage to understand Grenouille's all-consuming passion, much to Suskind's credit. Suskind's prose is lush and evokative (the decadance of 18th century France simply comes alive) without spilling over into the purple prose of books like Violin or The English Patient. Perfume is a bizarre tale, but it is also lyrical and hypnotic--almost a fairy tale of terror. If you're looking for something different, something special, I highly recommend Perfume. The only other book I've found to equal it in originality is Jose Saramago's Blindness. Perfume, however, remains my alltime favorite.
on December 4, 2001
When the first english language version of "Perfume" was released in 1986, readers went crazy. Many placed it among the best books they'd ever read, myself included. A reread, fifteen years later yields a different, more muted, reaction. The book is good, very good. But it is not great.
"Perfume" succeeds so well because the premise is so startlingly novel. An olfactory genius in 18th-century Paris who can make a fortune creating perfumes more complicated and subtle than any ever made, is a sociopathic monster. Or as Suskind describes him, a "tick" who can roll up into a defensive ball or periodically drop himself into society. Grenouille is a compelling and disturbing character because Suskind has painted him in such realistic tones. Each effort to capture a new scent impels him farther, taking more chances and testing his limits, exploiting new techniques and his own criminal daring. This is true criminal pattern and makes Grenouille terrifyingly believable.
But the book can not be a great one, because Suskind's prose tends toward the overdone. Perhaps it reads better in the original German, but his maddening penchant for rephrasing and repeating the same notion and turning a sentence into a paragraph finally dulls the senses and sets the reader skimming along searching for the next important point.
The plot is so unique that it is brilliant. The execution is powerful, not only in Grenouille's characterization, but also because Suskind has done his homework and is smoothly at ease with 18th century mores and the science of perfume. But the squishy repetitive prose and unfocused paragraphs keep "Perfume" from joining the ranks of literary masterpieces.
Almost impossible to describe, PERFUME is one of the oddest and most unique books you'll ever read. Set centuries ago, if follows the life of a very emotionally crippled child (later adult) with a hugely sensitive sense of smell. Our "hero" becomes a master perfume maker and almost becomes dangerously obsessed with making a perfume that captures the essence, the very purity of a lovely virgin. Weird, huh?
The book, though compared to "literature" by some of the reviews here, moves very quickly and doesn't feel difficult to read at all. It does take a lot of time telling you about the manufacture of perfumes, but to be quite honest, this stuff is VERY fascinating the way it is presented here.
The book has moments of dry humor, moments of drama, and moments of pure, over-the-top grotesqueness. You've never read a book with a main character anything remotely like this. You've never followed a plot at all similar. And the ending is unexpected as well. It's not exactly a "feel-good" read, but when you're done, you'll have the unusual feeling of having gone down a literary road that's never been traveled before.
Highly, highly recommended. Just keep an open mind!!!
on January 29, 2007
I first heard of this novel in conjunction with the release of the movie "Perfume" and after reading some complimentary material from Roger Ebert about the original written work (translated from the German) I decided to give this story a try. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the story itself is very accessible & well written, and that the murders described on the book jacket are not where Suskind turns his graphic focus. Grenouille (sp?), the murderer, is a unique character. He is blessed (cursed?) with an incredible sense of smell and the ability to store any scent he encounters in the vaults of his memory for repeated enjoyment later. Think of him as a "scent savant." Furthermore, he has no smell of his own - no body odor, nothing. After surviving a less-than-ideal birth and subsequent rearing at the hands of wetnurses, monks, and tanners, He becomes an apprentice perfume maker and helps his mentor become one of the most popular perfumers in France by using his unique gifts to create evocative perfumes that dazzle the senses and sell for great sums of money. However, as Grenouille learns the perfumer's art we learn that his motives are suspect - scent is all he is concerned with, and he wants to learn to distill and extract odors of living things and objects, not just flowers and other plants used in perfuming. From there, the book follows G's relationship with scent and how he covets the life essence of young women, leading to a self-initiated hermitage, subsequent murder spree, and eventually a spectacular resolution of the plot. If you are wary of this book because you are not one who wants to read about graphic mutilations and "CSI" like corpse descriptions, then by all means don't worry. The murders are not the story...the character, his magnificent skill, and the progression of his life is the story. As the book jacket states, G kills over two dozen women...but not a corpse nor a murderous act is described in detail in the bunch, and this all happens in the last quarter of the novel, basically on just a few pages out of hundreds. If you can stomach "He then strangled her," then you've just read an example of how the murders are typically presented. Instead, we learn about how the scents relate to his thoughts and his motives and we learn how such a man came to the decisions he made. The finale, which I will not ruin here, seems unbelievable...but based on what we've learned in the preceding pages it makes sense and brings the story to a fantastic and memorable close. If you are looking for a unique "book club" book that will lead to interesting discussion, and a break from Nora Roberts, Michael Connelly, or Oprah's book club, then male and female readers alike might want to give it a look. It might not knock your socks off, but there is enough there to make it worth the time.
This is a novel so beautifully written that it transcends into literature. Ingenious in its conception and carefully crafted, the author has created a unique and dazzling work of fiction. Divided into three parts, the book tells the story of a most unusual life, that of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille.
The first part of the book establishes that he was born to a woman who was hung from a gibbet for having left him to die. It turns out that Jean-Baptiste is an unusual baby. He gives people the willies, because, unlike most babies, Jean-Baptiste has no scent.
Over time, Jean-Baptiste develops into a boy with a secret gift. His olfactory sense is developed to a degree unheard of in humans. He delights in parsing the odors around him. Ugly, friendless, and a loner, he eventually ventures into the city of Paris, a malodorous and pungent cornucopia of smells. Believe me, there is plenty to sniff out in eighteenth century Paris! Jean-Baptiste savors each whiff, and the book conveys these olfactory delights with meticulous, descriptive precision.
His bleak existence is transformed, however, when he one day captures a heady scent of such exquisite beauty that he finds himself obsessed with it. Determined to have that scent at all costs, he eventually sniffs it out. It turns out to be the scent of a young virgin on the cusp of flowering into a woman. It is a scent that he must possess. What he does to do so will surely chill the reader.
Jean-Baptiste eventually maneuvers to get himself apprenticed to a perfumer, so that he can have the opportunity to learn the trade and create scents. He leads a bleak existence, subsisting as little more than a slave to the perfumer for whom he works.
The second part of the book begins when Jean-Baptiste leave his employer and goes on a personal pilgrimage, leading an austere existence away from civilization for many years. There, he withdraws into himself even further, living a totally self-sustaining, hermitic existence. He ultimately realizes what other have sensed about him. Jean-Baptiste has no personal scent. He simply does not smell.
With this knowledge, he returns to civilization where, having lived as practically an animal for many years, he creates a fictitious and adventurous scenario to account for his filthy and disgusting appearance. Subsequently, he is taken under the wing of some local nobility and feted and pampered. Realizing the importance of scent, he creates a personal scent for himself. He now realizes that he who has the power over scent can rule supreme. He intends to do so.
The third part of the book has Jean-Baptiste migrating to a town that is the hub for the scent trade. Perfumes, oils, and soaps are the stock in trade for this town and, as such, beckon brightly to Jean-Baptiste. Once there, he again smells a scent so delectable that he longs to possess it. He knows that scent for what it is and now knows that it is the scent, and not the personal charms of its bearer, that captures the attention and devotion of others. Jean Baptiste wants to harness that scent at all costs. He desperately desires the power to make others love him. He wants to be supreme.
It is his desperate desire to harness and possess that celestial scent that causes Jean-Baptiste, a socio-path with little empathy for others, to prey upon the maidens of the town in order to obtain that which he needs. It is his obsession that lays at the heart of the vortex that arises in the town, as murder after murder occurs. Yet, no one suspects him. What ultimately happens leads to an almost unbelievable climax, when Jean-Baptiste finds himself consumed by the passion he has managed to arouse in others through scent.
This is a heady, quirky, and compelling debut novel, like nothing I have ever before read. Complex and lyrical in its telling, it is a novel that stays with the reader long after the last page is turned. Bravo!
Upon hearing that this book was made into a movie that is to come out at the end of this year, I knew I had to read the story as I like to read the book first and see the movie after. Scent is something that people can't ignore, they can close their eyes and cover their ears, but a smell can reach them and intrude all private spaces.
Perfume is a tale of a period serial-killer, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille born in 18th century France of a woman who cut and cleaned fish. Born in the market, under her table he was to be left for dead, but miraculously as the people busied themselves with work they heard a powerful wail, a cry like no other. The mother caught at trying to dispose of her baby was punished by death, the little infant taken to a monastery but given away because his lack of scent frightened all around him. Taken by a woman who was battered by her husband when he was alive, who could not smell and feel, he was raised like any other orphan, as long as the church paid her yearly. Jean-Baptiste rouse suspicion from children who were scared of him, they couldn't get any feeling for what he was, for they knew he was not like all other humans. There was that lack of scent, the absolute nothingness and fear he spread, he preferred to be left alone, he worked hard and endured years of hard labor that would have any other human drop dead, but not Grenouille. He waited coiled up inside of his mind like a tick ready for fresh blood, he waited for an opportunity to conquer the world of scent and that he did.
As Grenouille jumps form job to job, landing a position with Baldini, a perfumer in Paris simply by chance he learns all that he can about proper extraction and perfume procedure, all of which are greatly described to the reader. Grenouille who lacks scent himself, has an immense library of scents which whiffs he only needed once in order to bottle and store them inside his own head. He can come up with the most exquisite combinations of scents and oil, pomades and cosmetics, bringing Baldini to the top of fame, letting him take all the credit. All that Grenouille wanted to learn was for his own knowledge, and as he traveled from town to town, people who helped him or who took him in meet with strange and sometimes gruesome deaths. Grenouille is a character who first omits great sympathy, with his cold soul, his strange manners and un-civilized at first behavior. I felt pity, I laughed and felt bad for him, but as time progressed his desire of scent capture moved form household objects to small animals and then humans. His indifference to pain and suffering quickly diffused any pity and made me read of him with a very weary mind.
Once he caught a scent of a ripening womanhood, he was transfixed. Among the 18th century Paris, that was crowded and stank of dirty people, food and excrements, he smelled a pure and beautiful scent, which he described as silk and milk. It was the scent of a red haired girl peeling yellow plums by the river. Jean-Baptiste knew from that moment on that the only scent he really wanted to create was that of a pure human in its crystalline form. After his first murder he inhaled the lingering spirit and put it away in his memory, he then traveled along the coast and waited years for an opportunity to study the science of perfume more and to apply it to his own devilish plan.
This book, has so much more going on that I can possibly describe, the world of Jean-Baptiste and his scents was a pleasure to read. I have never been so transfixed and captivated by a sense I take for granted, and this book was a refreshing eye opener.
Hundreds of scents are described in Patrick Suskind's novel, the smell of a blossoming woman, the metallic tang of a doorknob, the soft creamy sheep wool, oaky warmth of wood pulp, oranges ripening with juice, the moonlight cape of magnolias, the fresh windy smell of a puppy and finally, Grenouille's perfect perfume composed of twenty five virgins.
The ending was pretty shocking and total punch, it left me wanting to read more but also satisfied with how well the story wrapped up. I adored the descriptions of nature and of old Paris, I felt transported to the world of great costumes, powdered wigs, dirty living conditions and interesting relationships. Great read with a chilling villain who succumbs to his own desires and of the alluring world of scent which will never be the same.
- Kasia S.
on July 27, 2005
Grenouille, The main character of the bizarre book "Perfume," reads like a one man freak show: He has no scent of his own, which causes him to be shunned in an already cruel mid-18th century Paris, but he can smell, and recognize scents, better that any bloodhound. In fact, he finally demonstrates his full talents by smelling a popular perfume, and stating accurately exactly what ingredients it consists of, and in what proportions. He can then easily improve upon it, and goes on to mix some of the top perfumes in France. His "greatest work" is produced by serially murdering virgins, and formulating an essence from their bodies that can conjure up an illusion that its wearer is a saint.
I enjoyed reading about the art of making perfume, as well as the atmosphere the author created of an uncaring society (although both of these subjects are both done better in Michel Faber's "Crimson Petal and the White"). But the main character, who at first we pity, soon becomes utterly loathsome and devoid of any merit. Midway through the book, I lost interest in him, and all the other characters for that matter.
I know "Perfume" must be read as an allegory, but I couldn't help but think that the finest perfume in the world is not going to make anyone see beauty when there's ugliness, either physical or otherwise. In fact, the opposite is true -- a pleasant scent on a loathsome person soon becomes unpleasant. In my humble opinion, "Perfume," though fairly well-written and definitely unique, should not be receiving all these five star reviews. Ah well! I guess beauty lies in the nose of the smeller!
This lusciously depicted novel is both a vivid evocation of life in eighteenth century Paris and an homage to the least celebrated of our senses--that of smell. In language so onomatopoetic it must have been an almost insuperable challenge for the translator, Suskind tells the tale of Grenouille (Frog), an orphan on the streets of Paris whose hard life would have destroyed a less single-minded pursuer of the sensuous life.
Grenouille's sense of smell is so subtly attuned that he can distinguish a single, elemental scent among the various aromas and stenches bombarding him, all vividly described by Suskind. He can identify individuals from their unique scents, a pursuit so compelling for him that he is willing to kill without conscience to preserve or distill the most glorious of these scents. As Grenouille moves from his apprenticeship in a butcher shop (depicted in nauseatingly odoriferous detail) to that of a perfumer, one of the book's witty ironies, the reader is bombarded with scents so intoxicatingly described that s/he may reach for the nearest spray perfume in order to participate personally in the author's sensuous celebrations.
One of the most gloriously descriptive (and sly) novels you will ever read, it is also an unforgettable commentary on depravity, unfettered arrogance, and ironically misplaced idealism, which culminates in a final, thunderous scene of exuberant depravity. Mary Whipple
on December 28, 2007
I read Perfume on a recommendation by Esquire. The storyline captivated me, and I ordered it right away. Let me first say that I've never really considered myself a fan of period pieces. I find usually the language is too hard to follow fluidly, being that modern English is far different than Old English. I really needn't have had reservations, because as soon as I picked this book up I fell deeply into the story, the character and all the stunning visuals it invoked in my mind. I felt as if I were there. Further, the story is so amazingly imaginative that not only did I love Perfume, I knew I had to read other things written by Suskind (of which there is very little). Reading reviews from other people who say this book was terrible is pretty perplexing to me, and I have to attribute that to people who cannot fathom letting themselves into the deranged mind of the main character or his motives, or who just don't understand the story. After reading it I was thrilled to find they were making a movie (which never made an appearance in my hometown, so I had to wait for DVD), and surprisingly found they were amazingly close in depicting the feeling and perplexity of the story.
on January 21, 2000
When I was thirteen a friend of the family Martin Grief lent my sister a book. My sister however is 9 years older than I and wouldn't let me read it. People had stopped me from watching shows on TV and reading magazines but had always told me that books were to be highly regarded. I was intrigued. So one day I saw the book lying around and took it to my room. It took me two days flat to read it.
Have you noticed what a tremendous impact smell has on us? You could be walking down the street in Dublin and smell something that takes you back to your childhood or to the holiday you've just comeback from. Smell seems to have a direct link to our subconscious, we hardly notice it but without it our memories would be in turmoil.
Patrick Suskind by writing a book based entirely around this sense has made reading into a new experience. He describes beauty, ugliness and the human condition from this original standpoint. By using a sense that effects us so deeply he is able tap into our emotions and pull us completely into his book. I was transported into a city of grime, disease, and lechery and into the mind of a murderer. After re-reading the book I feel like I know the main character Jean-Baptise Grenoullie intimately. I have smelled what he a has smelled and walked where he has walked.
The only negative thing I have to say about this book is that I find the ending unconvincing and a little less believable than the rest of the plot.
Please go out and read this book for a new perspective. But don't be surprised if while walking passed a dump or a dustbin in the summer heat you find yourself thinking about the pages you read in this book.