Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

July 27, 2010 at 12:10 am 6 comments

The scent was a blend of both, of evanescence and substance, not a blend, but a unity, although slight and frail as well, and yet solid and sustaining, like a piece of thin, shimmering silk…and yet again not like silk, but like pastry soaked in honey-sweet milk–and try as he would he couldn’t fit those two together: milk and silk!

I know I’ve told Corey this, but I don’t know if I’ve told you all — my new local library is a bit like the Room of Requirement. While I am normally a Zen-like library browser, picking books off shelves at random and hoping they’d be something I like, I discovered early on that if I thought of a book title, odds are, I’d find it waiting for me on the shelf, despite the library’s small size and otherwise limited selection.

Last week, I didn’t have a specific title in mind, just an idea.  I want to read something sensual, I thought. Not sexual, just something heady and indulgent, something that makes me feel like I’m using all of my senses, something that picks up my mind and drags it into the world of that book.

Lo and behold, the library gave me Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Peter Suskind. While it didn’t have to do with food, kind of what I was thinking when I let the library know what I needed, this book certainly fit my craving for something sensual.

At once a chilling character study and a tightly-woven narrative, Perfume is the fictional biography of Jean Baptiste-Grenouille, an orphaned sociopath with an incredible sense of smell. He himself smells like nothing (not even in the crook of his elbow, where Suskind says all humans smell like themselves and I tend to agree with him), but he can smell absolutely everything around him.

Suskind has a gift for description. He makes his reader feel as though she has a preternatural sniffer, too, though any reader who pauses and takes a step back will find herself feeling as though she’s been cheated out of one of her senses. Yes, we can smell — but our noses are hardly in the same league as Jean’s, as Suskind makes clear.

Jean may be a sociopath, but he’s also a genius, an artist, a wunderkind. Anyone who has ever had a passion for anything will find themselves empathizing, though probably not sympathizing, with Jean’s need to capture the perfect smell. Though he isn’t likable by any means, Jean is relateable, and Suskind must be a wonderfully clever writer in order to pull off that balance.

If you’re looking for an enthralling summer read, or even are just a fan of historical fiction, I cannot recommend this book enough. And, at $4.42 for a new copy from Amazon, this is definitely a book worth buying.

Have you read this novel, or seen the movie? Let me know what you think!

— Kate


Entry filed under: Historical Fiction. Tags: , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Iris  |  July 27, 2010 at 2:50 am

    I haven’t read the book, but as always, it is on my list! You made me want to pick it up straight away, but I ave to many TBR books that I need to finish right now..

    • 2. Kate  |  July 27, 2010 at 7:09 am

      This was a case of Shiny Book Syndrome — I skipped over four other TBR library books in order to start this one first! Luckily, it’s so short that I was able to finish it in a day or two and now I’m only a little bit behind.

  • 3. Eva  |  July 27, 2010 at 5:20 am

    I saw the movie and enjoyed it! Then I saw a copy of the book at a Friends of the Library sale, so now it’s patiently waiting on my shelves for me. :)

    Have you read Silk by Alessandro Baricco? That’s the first thing that came to mind when you said sensual not sexual.

    • 4. Kate  |  July 27, 2010 at 7:11 am

      Ooh, I’m glad the movie was good! I might have to check it out.

      As for Silk, I haven’t read it — but even your brief description is making me want to! Oh well, I’ll add it to my ever-growing TBR list :)

  • 5. rikkiscraps  |  July 31, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Perfume is a fantastic book. I read it years ago and still re-read it once in a while. It is amazing how Süsskind describes smells. The first paragraph of the book alone draws you right in and you think you are standing right at the fishmarket yourself.

    Not so sure about the film. They did an ok job considering that you can’t use smells in a film, but I thought the guy who played Grenouille was not Grenouille at all. Not ugly enough, not passionate enough, too mediocre.


    • 6. Kate  |  August 4, 2010 at 7:19 am

      Haven’t seen the film yet, but I imagine this would be a very hard book to make into a movie! I can only imagine it working with a voiceover narration, but even then…I don’t know.


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