I think we are all familiar with that icebreaker that asks you, in a hypothetical world, what awesome superpower you would most wish to possess. I just thought I’d mention that because its one of my favorite games and also I have recently discovered a creative and dominating new superpower I wouldn’t mind acquiring: a perfect nose.
After watching a recently released DVD adapted from a novel called ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’, I was so enamored with the story and characters in the tale I sought after the novel by the same title. In few words, this book is evocative, original, and ‘fragrantly’ written.
But honestly, ‘Perfume’ is not something I tend to want to read normally. I am torn in two about this book; and that’s one reason why I think it is fantastic. Although I enjoyed the scenes and, most of all, the intricately manufactured main character name Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, this gloomy book of fiction is difficult to find true value in. For timeless admiration, books usually carry a sense of importance and application for the reader. However, ‘Perfume’ left an imprint of 18th century perfume industry knowledge and appreciation of a well-written character. Not a whole lot more than that.
In 18th century France, a boy named Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born in the sour, stinking streets of the biggest city of the day: Paris. He grows up just narrowly escaping the murderous attempts of those close to him, his mother being one of them, to discover an amazing talent only he possesses. Grenouille has an unmatched ability to smell, distinguish and store the scents all around him in his brain for access and enjoyment at any time. Right about now you should be thinking, “Now that’s just fantastical bullocks.” but the author did such a superb job of depth and details in every sentence the book is really overwhelmingly sensory and colorful. Maybe in this particular case, it’s appropriate to call the technique ‘flowery’.
Anyway, as Grenouille grows up in a cold orphanage and sold for minimal francs to work in dangerous fields of work in which he isn’t expected to live for more than a few years, he continually discovers and catalogues all fragrances, from rotten to sweet. Because he knows nothing of love or affection, this collection of odors is his one motivation to stay alive. His motivations, however, change and make the story bleak and rather disturbing when one fateful night in the city of Paris makes him realize his gift of smell is useless in capturing the most beautiful scents forever. He loses an aroma so beautiful; in fact, he experiences what love is for the first time, in all of it’s pleasure and pain.
Grenouille, with is immaculate talent, secures a position as a perfumer’s apprentice, and he becomes obsessed with capturing forever what he considers beauty; the world’s finest splendors in the form of smell. It just so happens that these splendors are actually the charm and loveliness of young maidens. Our complex yet brutal character has a quest to manufacture the most refined, irrefutably beautiful perfume, so that those in the world who don’t know even know what adoration is can really experience true love. The ending will confuse and shock, but it’s quite perfect if considering the tepidity, variance and obsession in humanity.
This book is great to read on vacation or for entertainment, but not a good choice for a book club. It is certainly a fun and easy story with captivating characters (although a scene or two I found to be flat and defused from Grenouille’s authentic purpose and incentives) right from chapter one, but discussions will mostly be about an impressive and creative technique and less about thematic success. My favorite bit about this book and film is how the awkward genius Grenouille is both victimized and horrendous, and how the author was able to conjure a dueling feeling of compassion and disgust of him. Such character profundity is rare and emotionally a little murky, but moving.
‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ was written by Patrick S/skind and translated from the German by John Woods. The original German published title is ‘Das Parfum’ in 1986 and is currently an international bestseller.