Book Review: Perfume by Patrick Suskind

This book was given to me as a gift, with the hope that in it I might discover a whiff of inspiration. Not only was I happy to find this to be true, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of writing and the simple joy of simply enjoying the style – to say nothing of the content. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Who this book is for: people with a dark sense of humor, fans of stories about criminals or estranged folks, anyone remotely interested in [post-Revolution] France, or anyone who thinks they’d enjoy a very different story. It’s a story about a murderer, but I wouldn’t call it a murder mystery nor a horror. There’re some (possibly) fantastical elements to it, but there’s no real indication that this is fantasy or paranormal.

This book is about the power of scent, as one might deduce from the title, and a Parisian’s struggle from birth to go through life with an inhumanly acute sense of smell – and an excellent memory and hatred of humanity to go with it. In describing the protagonist/villain Grenouille (“grr-noo-ee”) to a friend of mine, I told of how he did not grasp the concept of spoken language until later childhood. Nouns such as milk made no sense to Grenouille, for milk had a distinct odor yes, but that odor was different depending on the cow, the food eaten by the cow, or even how spoiled the milk was throughout the day if left out. How could one word mean something as complicated as milk?

Much like categorizing the book.

The author describes the world as seen by Grenouille through his nose, and it is a miserable, stinking world to be sure, populated by pitiful, stinking people. While most of the novel describes Grenouille’s life story, and those folk unfortunate enough to have anything to do with him, it is anything but slow-paced. Several times as I was reading I almost began to think “okay, hurry it up,” but the story would turn or develop in such a satisfactory way before I would ever feel such impatience.

In other words, the storytelling of Perfume is fun, the pacing was perfect for me, and the subject matter was fascinating. A refreshing, interesting bit of literature that I’ll be thinking about even as I try to get through A Storm Of Swords.

Go read it, and forever rethink how you (and your characters)  sniff the world around.

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