I really wanted to like this book. I think my low opinion is partially my fault, because I drove into the story...more* * REVIEW CONTAINS SLIGHT SPOILERS * *
I really wanted to like this book. I think my low opinion is partially my fault, because I drove into the story with high expectations due to rave reviews. I need to learn not to do that.
The beginning of this novel was excellent. A Ivy League dropout, who formerly studied to be a vet, runs away and joins the circus. The time period? The Depression and Prohibition America - a historical era of uncertainty and chaos. I was looking for an intriguing tale of a college youth thrust into an unfamiliar world, along with a dose of touching animal stories. What I got was a romance. Pure and simple.
A major issue in this novel is the characterization. The characters, with the exception of Walter (aka Kinko) and his dear Queenie, were flat and predictable. Marlena and August bothered me the most - Marlena being beautiful and kind and boring, and August being a cruel husband due to his mental illness. Besides the hackneyed stereotype of the mentally ill being violent, August's schizophrenia appeared to be a plot device to bring Jacob and Marlena together without making them look like bad people for cheating. I didn't buy it for half a second. I think the affair would've been much more interesting if August was...well, basically a normal husband who was maybe a little too obsessed with his own accomplishments.
The romance between Jacob and Marlena made me yawn. While Jacob was a fairly developed character, Marlena was the epitome of a side-female love interest: gorgeous with little beneath the surface. Barbara, the "cooch girl", had more depth than her. If Marlena were developed further (and if she had a flaw or two), I could buy their love story. And hey, maybe one day I'll appreciate where the characters ended up. Today is not that day. On a similar note, I've heard some people complain about the sex scenes, and while the descriptions are a bit odd, I had no problem with there being sex in the book. The setting is a circus, there is booze everywhere, and sex is gonna happen.
Again - I think I went into this novel with high expectations and if I'm getting the wrong idea or whatever, that's my own doing. I'll probably pick it up again in the future to see if I think differently then.(less)
Oh Perfume, Perfume, Perfume. This book would've gotten three stars if it weren't for the middle section. Seriously, when I initially read the back co...moreOh Perfume, Perfume, Perfume. This book would've gotten three stars if it weren't for the middle section. Seriously, when I initially read the back cover, I half-expected people to drop dead left and right while the batshit insane Jean-Baptiste Grenouille created his "ultimate scent" - which he does but it takes a long time to get there, folks! I should REALLY learn that the teaser summary isn't the entire book. For shame, Rachel, for shame.
Anyway the middle section (where Jean-Baptiste indulges in his misanthropic ways and spends a little too much time away from humanity) seemed to drag on and on and *on*. Seriously, dude, we get it: you have issues. get on with the mayhem please? I'm all for character reflection, but less than 50 pages would be nice.
As for the actual WRITING, it's quite beautiful and original and was the saving grace of this book. Süskind describes scents very well and his use of adjectives is phenomenal. Scent is often snubbed by writers for "sight" and "touch," and it's such a shame because smell surrounds people and olfactory descriptions makes story-telling richer.
I only wish this story had better pacing. Ah well. I'm still going to give the movie a go at some point.(less)
Like many other readers here, I saw the movie-version first and enjoyed it better. Kitty and Walter were far more sympathetic and developed than their...moreLike many other readers here, I saw the movie-version first and enjoyed it better. Kitty and Walter were far more sympathetic and developed than their book counterparts. In the book's opening, I felt nothing except loathing for the central character (Kitty) and then only a small dose of empathy toward her at the book's conclusion, mostly due to her failings in Hong Kong with Townscend which made her "transformation" seem temporary. I know many of my fellow readers are quite romantic (at least that's the vibe I get :)), and enjoyed the movie better because the love between Walter and Kitty was mutual. Although I DEFINITELY preferred the relationship in the movie, I could've respected the unrequited love within the novel if it were presented more clearly (re: with more interaction between Kitty and Walter after they depart from Hong Kong along with Walter's character being more developed).
That all being said, I do not regret reading this novel. The setting (1920s China) was EXTREMELY interesting, and I particularly enjoyed the bits about the nuns' convent. The Mother Superior was certainly a compelling character, and I loved learning about her privileged life in France before she went to China. The book is also an easy read - not too difficult to follow but not completely bland either. The author's ability to move between time-frames was very skillful too.(less)