Tuesday, December 30, 2008

“The Perfume: The story of a murderer” by Patrick Süskind

Posted by Harry Markov

Title: "The Perfume: Story of a Murderer" Author: Patrick Suskind Pages: 272 Publisher: Vintage Originally published 1985 “The Perfume” has been slipping through the decades with one mission only and namely leaving you speechless. Or at least this is how it happened with me once I read the novel. Extravagant, visual and surrealistic the story spins out of reality’s control, demolishes the rules with a bulldozer and show like a grand theatre hall how the least likely things happen. During my German class years I had the misfortune to sample firsthand literary works written by German speaking and have been bored out of my wits. The reason behind this is because Germans never really incorporate emotions in what they write and go along the lines of a philosophical essay. Intelligence in a novel is something I value, but it can’t support any story on its own. Needless to say “The Perfume” came as a pleasant surprise and a dark fairy tale taken from the Brothers Grimm, left to mature and evolve and then served with an actual historical background. Süskind has woven a creepy tale, which dissects the human heart, spirit and essence so boldly, into our own time line in such a way that you begin to wonder what part is fiction and what is not and whether or not this is based on a true story. The protagonist’s name is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, whose life is almost identical to most of the children in France during the 18th century. Left for adoption, then cast off into child labor and an unsure future. But what separates him from all the rest is his superhuman sense of smell. This is the first step into a new world for the reader as Süskind give smells a whole new dimension to play with. Jean-Baptiste can identify any solid, liquid or gaseous substance in all of its nuances. He can memorize them, mix them any way he wants and then use them as a map to guide himself without using his sight. Naturally this talent saves him from a low paying job as a leather worker and launches him straight in to the perfume business under the wing of perfumer Giuseppe Baldini, who is only interested in profit. Either way Jean-Baptiste soaks in all the knowledge and techniques from Baldini before leaving for Grasse. There he plans to learn new ways to isolate smells from inanimate objects, but after spending seven years into a cave to rejoice the absence of human smells his quest changes. Suddenly he realizes that his own body doesn’t emit any odor of its own. Now he sets off to create the finest human body odor there can exist and from then on the story progresses into a bizarre tale of murder and planning to create the ultimate perfume. A flask, which is filled with the scent of the 25 most beautifully smelling teenage girls. The nutshell version is the first hook in experiencing “The Perfume” and it doesn’t stop here. But be warned that this is a book for the people, who aren’t satisfied with the normal and would like something more daring, more surreal and sometimes if necessary vulgar. Süskind offers all. Every human relationship is being translated through the world of smells. The motherly connection with a baby, the way society recognizes and treats you, love and the concept of right or wrong are all a game of smells. Mix the right ingredients and you possess the power to make women fall faint from admiration, outwit and deceive the harshest law enforcer that you are as innocent as a lamb and if the circumstances require, turn invisible. This statement is proven in the novel with heavy scenes of a group festive orgy and an act of cannibalism that transcends the concept of love and twists it to portray the ugly extremes sowed in the human instinct. In the ultimate end with the right perfume you can test the morale of the human spirit, as proven there is none or at least it’s rather flexible; you can overcome limitations in communication and you can change identity with a simple spray. In the case of Jean-Baptiste, the freedom to forge any identity is what leaves him with none whatsoever, instantly detaching from the human world. He is an outsider, who is only allowed to observe. Of course another fun part is to perceive the world through the eyes of Jean-Baptiste, who is the epitome of all sociopathic anti-heroes to be created. His character is forced through another extreme, where it thrives and you wonder how in their inner world a human being can in reality never be part of the race. There are no attachments to the people in his life or around him. What ties him to the world is the abundance of smells, smells, which no one else can sense. Thus it leaves Jean-Baptiste a one of the kind character in a state of loneliness, some might relate to, but the majority will find too new and with different dimensions to connect. As a conclusion I want to add that “The Perfume” has done quite a lot to impress various artists, siring several songs, two of which are “Scentless Apprentice” by Nirvana and “Du Riechst So Gut” by Rammstein. A 2006 movie also appeared starring Dustin Hoffman, which earned a total 135$ Million in Europe. The story did quite well I think. A real rarity.

9 comments:

furiousBall said...

wow, i hadn't heard of this book, and i'm a huge nirvana fan. i need to read this just for that alone.

daydream said...

Quite frankly I want to hear that song because of the novel. I know Nirvana did freaky music and I am overly curious. I hope you like it.

Virginia Lady said...

This book sounds really interesting. What a different way to approach things. I need to find a copy. THanks for the review! And I have to check out that Nirvana song now.

daydream said...

Thanks for stoping bye and the book is really something to behold. The view towards humanity is thought provoking. I think a library will have it, if you can't find a new release. The last was 2006.

T.D. Newton said...

I saw the film this year (via Netflix) and strangely loved it. The story was just so different and exciting at every turn. I'll have to pick up the novel eventually.

daydream said...

I downloaded the film for two reasons 1) It was French [or so I remember, maybe wrong] and they have this sort of thing to go outside the normal and 2) the poster was too alluring not to. The novel overall is an intensified version of the movie, taking the ideas one degree further or at least being more detailed.

SQT said...

I'm surprised I've never heard of a book that appears to have had such an impact on other artists. I will definitely have to track this down. Thanks for the review Harry.

Charles Gramlich said...

I saw they made a movie but I didn't know it was from a book. I will have to check this out. Sounds much better than I'd imagined it might be just from the movie trailers.

daydream said...

SQT: I love Rammstein and their song has been on my top favorite list, but I never knew it was inspired by that book, even though it's obvious from the lyrics "You smell so good".

Charles: Please watch the movie before reading the book. Movies can never fully capture the essence of a novel and by watching the movie and then reading the book, you will experience a higher satisfaction.