• Current Reads

      Life after Life Jill McCorkle
      This Is Your Captain Speaking Jon Methven
      The Starboard Sea Amber Dermont
      Snark David Denby
      Bring Up the Bodies Hilary Mantel
  • Popular Tags

  • Recent Reflections

  • Categories

  • Moleskine’s All-Time Favorites

  • Echoes

    The HKIA brings Hong… on [788] Island and Peninsula 島與半…
    Adamos on The Master and Margarita:…
    sumithra MAE on D.H. Lawrence’s Why the…
    To Kill a Mockingbir… on [35] To Kill A Mockingbird…
    Deanna Friel on [841] The Price of Salt (Carol…
    Minnie on [367] The Rouge of the North 怨…
  • Reminiscences

  • Blog Stats

    • 1,081,327 hits
  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,710 other followers

[153] Perfume – Patrick Süskind

Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.” [82]

In 1738, on the most putrid spot in France, so it was said, amid garbage, feces, and putrefaction, born Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an odorless child whom everyone shunned. The wet nurse refused to nourish him because she thought he was possessed by devil. Kids at the orphanage snubbed him—because they were afraid of him. But this child was bestowed with an incredible gift, an extraordinarily keen olfactory sense. His exquisite nose, aided by a phenomenal memory, allowed himself to master quickly the chemistry of perfume-making. Although the talent to synthesize new aromatic combinations elevated the perfumery for which he worked as an apprentice to renown, the owner dismissed him after he secured the formulas of Grenouille’s concoctions.

So this brings to my first bafflement—Grenouille’s withdrawal to a cave in the countryside, the celebrated arrival at mountain solitude. The tone of the narrative shifts and takes on a dreamy, stream-of-conscious form. The inner conversation in his mind bespeaks a mind so perverted that he had decided in favor of life out of spite and malice. Who can blame him for this horrifying transformation, someone who was not wanted, who was raised without love, with no warmth of a human soul, surviving solely on impudence and the power of human beings who were themselves corrupted, ugly, and abominable? It is during this allegorical withdrawal that “the dark doors within him opened, and he entered.” The cave, where he lived for seven years like a wild beast, could well be the concretization of his lifelong separation from mankind—because up to that hermitage, separation was only in an olfactory but not a physical sense.

“A power stronger than the power of money or the power of terror or the power of death: the invincible power to command the love of mankind. There was one thing that power could not do: it could not make him able to smell himself.” [252]

Once perceived that a true odor of human being didn’t exist any more than human countenance, Grenouille worked on creating a personal scent, one that would enchant people and make them love him. Before long it dawned on him that he would never find gratification in love. For once he wanted to be apprehended in his true being, for other human beings to respond with an answer to his only emotion, hatred. Beneath his total nonsmell and innocence burgeoned a deadly sedition of collecting the body essence from twenty-five girls approaching womanhood. Until he achieved this goal, he would move around the world of men, whom he despised, undisturbed with a number of odors that kept his true nature from them. With a mentally distorted disposition that is reminiscent of Raskolnikov’s striving to be a being superior than mankind (Crime and Punishment), Grenouille formed a plan to rule mankind—for who he ruled scents ruled the hearts of men.

Perfume is a literary historical cross-genre novel, a thriller, that beautifully incorporates the author’s knowledge, imagination and writing dexterity to portray the fantasy of a sick brain, a collector of transient of beauty. Granted the merit of literary style, I’m afraid Süskind stretches a bit too far in detailing the unbelievable circumstances—the obscene turn of event at the execution, the hypnosis en masse, and the absurd redemption—that prelude his final demise. The last third of the book more than overkills the whole novel for me. The surprise is very powerful but disposition of the surprise is not my cup of tea.

6 Responses

  1. I’ve heard so much about “Perfume” over the years it felt like a book I need to read. But now that you’ve read it, do you feel you’re missing anything if you never read it?

  2. Thanks for your review. I’ll remember to not snatch this up without thinking.

  3. Sounds like you have the same basic problems with the novel that I had. There is much to recommend “Perfume” but it remained problematic for me.

    Excellent review, and by the way, I picked up a copy of Crime and Punishment yesterday. After reading so much about it on your blog, I’m determined to give it a go.

  4. Dark Orpheus:
    I’m glad I’ve read it because the writing is quite beautiful. But I’m just not keen on the ending, which is a disappointment. But you won’t miss anything if you decide not to read.

  5. wordlily:
    It’s worthy reading for the beautiful prose. I just don’t appreciate how the story winds down.

  6. CB James:
    I think it is problematic for me as well! The way the story winds down bothers me. I hope you enjoy Crime and Punishment. It forms the basis for my thesis. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: