Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
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!