Peter Hiller's Reviews > Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume by Patrick Süskind
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's review
Oct 01, 2010

it was amazing

** spoiler alert ** I'm not normally a reader of historical/period piece novels (or as my partner refers to them, tampon theater) but this one was more than worth it. I enjoyed the exploration of the world and of the adventures of our protagonist.

I'm sure there is a term for a book where the protagonist of the story is the antagonist of those within it, but otherwise I can't really quite describe the book any other way. Dealing with a character who is thoroughly unlikable is difficult, and though there are few stumbles, Suskand pulls it off.

I found the novel most interesting in that it was somewhat obviously deliberately placed within the time period that it was as a final moment in history where it could have occurred. Right before the industrial revolution and the accompanying taxonomic determination and sorting of all the worlds knowledge which both would have stripped it of it's otherworldly events as well as the beginning of the scientific analysis of perfume. The story is at the last moments of western history in which the raw empirical knowledge and instinct of a man with nothing but the purest talents could succeed.

The success that he gains is of course monstrous in it's application. He has success without the calm discipline and calm that the modern age requires to know and learn things. Yes he toils for a time, but that he would rise immediately to the top with little more than a gut instinct was assured with his ability.

I can't help but imagine a modern imagination of this story. It would take place in a chemistry lab, with the endless quest for the perfect formula ending with what would probably make for a rather crappy action film.

As a side note, I have seen the film version of this and found it's thematic defferences to be more thoughtful. Though as an aside, I found it to beautifully filmed in almost every way(the two primary victims are possibly the most beautifully filmed women I have ever seen. Though the fact both have been aged a few years from the novel is more as an amusing point of todays social/film policies.

The Novel portrays Jean-Baptist's decision to end his life as little more than the decision to give up given he has already succeeded completely and thus any more is a waste of his times given how pitiful there poorly smelling plebes are. I will break the great rule in that I will say that the film's perception, though different was not inferior. That Jean-Baptist's descision there at least partially derives from his realization that in fact we can not do what a man normally would do with a beutiful woman is a force that though touched on in the novels closing, I felt the film was much more clearer on, and frankly I felt that it made me understand him more from this singular moment of kinship with this asexual beast.

As a minor aside, I had no idea how on earth he got ahold of the perfume for his execution. The only possibility is that he somehow hypnotised his capturers and the execution was a planned event to gather as large a test as possible. This feels flat though and I would rather see the ending as a plot hole that I can walk over (though if this was a modern work I'd drive a truck through it)
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