Nandakishore Varma's Reviews > Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume by Patrick Süskind
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's review
Jan 21, 2016

really liked it
Read from July 12 to 14, 2012

There are some books which can be called unique. They may be good, bad or indifferent: but their authors strike out from the trodden paths of narrative themes and structure to explore totally new vistas, so that the product becomes unique. Perfume by Patrick Suskind is such a book.

Jean Baptiste Grenouille is "an abominable and gifted personage, in an era which was not lacking in abominable and gifted personages". Born a bastard in the stinking heart of the city of Paris in the eighteenth century under a gutting table, the first cry he utters sends his mother to the scaffold for abandoning an infant. Grenouille grows up by sucking many wet nurses dry, survives the horrendous childhood of an orphan in an age without mercy, and grows up to become a successful perfumer. For this is his unique gift: the child who does not emit any smell himself is blessed with extraordinary olfactory capabilities, which allows him to recognise, separate and catalogue in his mind all the different odours he comes into contact with.

But simple identification is not enough for Jean. He is driven by the insatiable urge to possess any smell he likes for himself; he will move heaven and earth to extract it from its origin, make a perfume out of it and keep it with him. He is not bothered that the object which originates the smell will be destroyed in the process of extraction: he is a "smell-vampire". And like a vampire, it is the smell of virgins which drives him wild. Ultimately, Grenouille's gift and single-minded obsession proves to be the cause of both his uplift and undoing...

Suskind has written a gripping novel which will hook and pull the reader in from the first sentence onwards. However, this is not a simple horror story or thriller: it has got layers of meaning hidden beneath one another which will come out on careful reading.

Jean Baptiste Grenouille is a masterly creation. His insatiable thirst for smells makes him a truly terrifying "collector": one who cannot enjoy his passion the normal way, but must possess the object of his desire (I was reminded of Frederick Clegg in John Fowles' "The Collector") completely. The fact that he lacks a characteristic odour himself enhances his vampiric nature. Also, all the people who profit from him come to a grisly end, like the poor misguided souls who make a pact with the devil.

Joseph Campbell has made the slogan "Follow your bliss" very popular - but how to know whether your bliss is good or bad? I have always wondered about the concept of "negative bliss". Both Gandhi and Hitler could have been said to be following their bliss in different ways. While reading this novel, I was struck by the realisation that the difference is in one's attitude. If one is doing it because one cannot be doing anything else - following one's karma, if you want to put it that way - then it is bliss. But if one is driven by an insatiable need which feeds on itself, one ends up being a vampire. Ultimately, it consumes oneself.

Highly recommended.
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Comments (showing 1-14)

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message 14: by René (new)

René I must admit this is one of those books-I-haven't-read-but-saw-the-film. I remember the dissonance between the lush, saturated colours, flawless images and, on the other hand, my disgust at what was being portrayed.

Nandakishore Varma I saw a TV programme based on the film, which got me interested in the book. You are right, the subject matter is pretty disgusting - but then, I'm a bit twisted that way! ;)

message 12: by René (new)

René I'm pretty sure all book lovers are twisted, myself foremost :) But I have a hard time reading books with obsessive narrators, probably because I myself am obsessive.

message 11: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj It worked well for me as an allegory... that muted the disgust to an extent.

Nandakishore Varma Riku, IMO, most horror stories are allegories - which is why we read them. Even though I would not call this novel a horror story, even if the subject matter is pretty horrible.

Riku Sayuj Nandakishore wrote: "Riku, IMO, most horror stories are allegories - which is why we read them. Even though I would not call this novel a horror story, even if the subject matter is pretty horrible."

Fascinating. That was not something I was aware of... any examples?

Nandakishore Varma Just to take one common theme in horror stories: somebody does something "evil", and retribution is meted out in a particularly horrible form. This is the common religious theme of sin and punishment served up in a modern context.

message 7: by Clouds (new) - added it

Clouds "Too many books, not enough time" has become my mantra of late - but this one has waited long enough. Must bump it up my wanted list!

Aravind P I felt his psyche was more spiritual than crude. He considers smell as one's soul, which is what he lacks. He least care for the layers of clothes, skin and flesh that masks the true fragrance. He doesn't find the physical bits of an object that possess the fragrance any more important than what he feels about his own. I think that cold blooded ness is because his own body doesn't have any odour and hence him not feeling attached to it. In a way he was trying to find and preserve the soul removed from the body. (He makes a scent that gives a feel of a person where it is just that person's odour that is used). It was a fascinating read!

Junonevergrow-up i think this is a story about"a unique person how to exist in the world".

message 4: by Dolors (last edited Jun 23, 2014 12:52AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dolors Fantastic, insightful review and one of those cases in which I can recommend the movie adaptation without reservations.

Nandakishore Varma Dolors wrote: "Fantastic, insightful review and one of those cases in which I can recommend the movie adaptation without reservations."

Thanks. I will see the movie when I get the chance.

Rosangela I agree this book is amazing. Unique! Highly recommended!!!

message 1: by kirstin (new)

kirstin is it a good book

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