So only today I have had to present a presentation on this book, which thankfully, went pretty well! So, I thought I would give you a little review on what I thought about it! This novel is included in the reading for the Gothic module I am taking so I already knew it would be of a gothic nature. I will be discussing plot details so if you want to skip the spoilers, just pan down to where I’ve put *SPOILERS END*
So What’s it About?
Perfume by Patrick Süskind was originally published in 1985 in German and thereafter has been translated into 25 languages and been made into a film. Perfume, or Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, follows the life of the protagonist Jean-Baptiste Grenouille who is left to die by his mother in the streets of impoverished France. subsequently, his cry gets him rescued as well as his mother executed for her crime, and thus begins his journey.
It is discovered early on that the infant has no scent. In a world full of both horrendous and wondrous smells, this is very strange as well as unnerving to Grenouille’s acquaintances throughout the novel. At the age of eight, he is taken on as an apprentice to a tanner, Grimal. During his time here he experiences his first taste of freedom and discovers, and hunts down, the most divine scent he has come across. Using his gift of smell he tracks down the source of the scent, a young girl, who on sensing his arrival, turns around before Grenouille strangles her without remorse. This allows him to take in her scent to his heart’s content.
Scent & it’s Divinity…
Soon after Grenouille gets himself into the house of the well-known, but failing, perfumer Baldini. Impressed with Grenouille’s scent making he takes him on as an apprentice where Grenouille furthers his scent making skills. Grenouille, however, falls ill, but after Baldini tells him there are other ways of distilling and preserving he makes a miraculous recovery. Eventually, he leaves Baldini for Grasse, where he hopes to learn these distilling methods.
After a seven-year detour in a mountain cave, pondering the scents of his life, Grenouille emerges and is taken in by a slightly crazy nobleman. He uses Grenouille as an example of his theory of Fluidum Letale. Grenouille manages to slip away and continues to Grasse.
In Grasse, Grenouille works at a small perfumery learning different methods of distillation. He begins to distil scents other than flowers, beginning with inanimate objects then animals. He realising he must kill them in order to retrieve their scent properly. Grenouille then discovers a scent to match the girl’s he strangled, Laure Richis. He devises a plan to capture her scent, but to do this he needs other, similar scents to accompany it.
Murder in Grasse…
Grenouille then proceeds to kill twenty-four teenage girls distilling their scent, culminating in Laure Richis. He is caught for his crimes, but using his master scent, escapes death. However, feeling completely lost knowing no scent could ever come close to the one he has created, he returns to Paris to die. He completely douses himself in his scent and is devoured by a mob.
For me Perfume took awhile to gather momentum, but once it did, it was exciting and disturbing as a true gothic should be. At times it will make you cringe, but this is just an example of Süskind’s excellently raw and unrestricted writing. You are made aware of an aspect of the novel through the subtitle: ‘The Story of a Murderer’ however the bulk of this is realised right near the end of the novel, so you are almost waiting for this as you read.
I really enjoyed the switch of perspectives we see throughout the novel, which keeps the reader engaged and interested in the multitude of different characters you are introduced to. The novel also tells of quite an extended period of time and I felt this when reading the novel; I really felt I was going through these life events with Grenouille. Patrick keeps you gripped until the very last page, with Grenouille’s deep loathing of humanity and society.
Ultimately, Perfume is a compelling read, one that will have you turning the page over and over. It drags you into eighteenth-century France and makes you experience what the characters are thinking and feeling. It drudges up a range of emotions and at times makes you question yourself. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who has a taste for the gothic!
Peace & Love