Perfume: The story of a murderer by Patrick Suskind

Book review

Patrick Suskind is a 20th and and early 21st century German fiction writer and playwright who is known for his reclusive nature and his aversion towards interviews and being photographed. Perfume: The story of a murderer is the story of Jean Baptiste Grenouille, an abomination and an olfactory genius. Grenouille, the tick (as the author describes the character), is a man with no odor of his own but possesses the natural gift of recognising and creating smells. The story is set in 18th century Paris. Grenouille, rejected by his mother and adopted by the Church is always viewed as an outcast in the society. As he resides in Paris and works a menial job, he discovers the scent of a red haired girl. He murders her then and there and possesses her scent in his memories. This leads him to the realisation of his destiny as a perfumer. He works his way into becoming the apprentice among one of the famous perfumers in Paris called Baldini. He works under him and learns the basic skills required in perfumery. The contrasting difference between Baldini and Grenouille is portrayed beautifully by Suskind. While Baldini is someone with no natural talent or passion for perfumery but possesses the skills required for perfumery, Grenouille has no skills whatsoever but possesses the natural gift of recognising smells by their character and creating them with his olfactory talent.

One of the scenes that I really liked between Baldini and Grenouille is their introduction scene where Grenouille challenges Baldini that he, who possesses no skills in the art of perfumery, will produce a perfume that Baldini so desires to create for his client. With no proper “formula”, Grenouille succeeds in creating the Perfume with crude artistry, leaving Baldini dumbfounded and astonished. He quickly employs him as an apprentice and earns all the riches as a result.

After years of hard work with Baldini, Grenouille leaves for Grasse with his journeyman papers, to acquire more advanced skills required in the art of perfumery. On the way to Grasse, he realizes his hatred for humanity and strives to avoid human scents at all costs. This leads him to take refuge in a cave for seven years. One day, after seven years, a severe dream occurs to him. This dream leads him to the realisation of his odorlessness. In an attempt to overcome this internal catastrophe, he seeks out human company and travels for Grasse again.

In Grasse, he discovers another unique scent, quite similar to the scent of the red haired girl back in Paris. He takes an oath to himself that he would acquire it, preserve it and use it to conquer the world. He sets afoot on his homicidal quest for making the world’s most desirable scent which will outplay even God. It would be angelic that people would go berserk with it and wouldn’t even know the reason why. He prepares himself for this quest by learning to acquire scents from dogs and humans. He kills 25 virgins and collects their scents as adjuvants for the supreme scent. He finally collects the most important scent and gets caught. The ending is remarkable. He detests knowing that his hatred for people is reciprocated with love. This irony drives him crazy. He realizes that he cannot experience the scent he created as others can. He, the creator of the supreme scent, is unaffected by it. For he, Grenouille, can feel nothing but one emotion, i.e. hatred. The story is told in a very passionate manner and in multiple povs. It is fairly easy to understand, except for a few French words here and there. It has a formal writing style and is fluid, coherent and slow paced. I loved Grenouille’s characterisation and the depth provided to him.

One word for this book would be : Breathtaking.

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