Sunday, October 30, 2016

Murder Never Smelled Lovelier

Holy shit.

That was my initial reaction after reading Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind in over three hours today. Never had I been hit so hard by a book that also terrified me (except Syrenthia Falls by my dear friend and creepy brother Alexander Brown - love you!). There are only a handful of books that have terrified me. This is now a part of that list. I purchased Perfume yesterday and began reading it today. I think I got up twice to get snacks and prepare a cup of tea. I missed watching a film at the Brooks Museum of Art and didn't return a phone call until I had completed the book and was on my way to have dinner with the parental units. This is a book worth reading and adding to your collection.

The story is thus: 18th century France. A woman gives birth to a baby that she doesn't want, the fifth time that she's been pregnant. All of the other babies were stillborn except for this one. He is unlike any baby anyone has ever seen before. While the child doesn't look out of the ordinary, the baby is quite remarkable - he smells things. After being passed from wet nurse to orphanage, the young boy, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, becomes an apprentice to a tanner. Yet, his sense of smell is still greater than the average human and soon, he learns how to use it to his advantage. By sheer chance, he arrives one night at the establishment of Monsieur Baldini, a maker of perfumes and soon, his descent into the darkness begins. For although he uses his canny sense of smell to create such heavenly delights for the wealthy Madames and Monsieurs of France and the rest of the world, he also uses it in a sinister way. From flowers and spices to emotions and feelings, anything can be made into perfume.

Yet, Grenouille doesn't stop there. Because of his own lack of body scent, he seeks to create scents to bend people to his will - a scent to drive people towards him in adoration; a scent, made with cat poop, rancid cheese, and other sordid things to make people take notice of him as a human; and even a scent to make people "forget" they even saw him. Finally, towards the pinnacle of his career as a mixer of scents, he decides to create scents "made" from young and innocent women - with a dash of murder, of course!

As I stated, I read Perfume in three hours. I felt compelled to read every action of Grenouille - the book does not have that much dialogue, of which actually works in the book's favour. You encounter every sensation that Grenouille encounters, whether for good or evil, creating such a sensual and intimate experience that for a moment, you want to know if anyone could create such perfumes. Even the death of Grenouille is quite glorious in a Grand Guignol-esque fashion. It is quite a sensory overload.

Halfway through the book, I immediately looked up Suskind and found that he is a recluse in Munich. He doesn't do interviews and doesn't like his photo taken. I also learned that he's written other books - I'll probably order them all once I complete this review. Yes, he is just that good of an author.

If, however, he happens to discover this review: Danke, Herr Suskind. Danke.


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