Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
by Patrick Süskind
(translated from the German By John E. Woods)
"In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages."
This novel might as well have 'once upon a time' as an opening line for I would identify the story as a dark fairy tale for grown ups.
Perfume is a masterpiece that deals with issues of identity, self-discovery and human morality. Patrick Süskind takes his reader on a philosophical journey of what is right and what is beautiful. The world we live in very much focuses on the external and the visible - the extraverted world. Patrick Süskind introduces the unseen world, the world that is not as obvious to an average mind, but which has a tremendous subtle impact on each individual - the world of scent.
The story focuses on Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the "gifted and abominable personage". Grenouille was born at a fish market to a mother who rejects him as yet another stillborn baby. He was born without a body scent himself, but a very keen sense of smell. He begins to learn and discover the world around him through olfaction. He does not have any friends, he does not partake in any child play - any idea of human interaction is foreign to Grenouille. He prefers to disappear into the internal world of smells, building himself his own olfactory paradise. Until one day whilst strolling through Paris and looking for new scents, Grenouille discovers a scent that stirs a feeling he has not known before. It is the ultimate scent of Grenouille, the scent that lifts him onto the highest planes of his being. He follows his nose and discovers that this scent belongs to a girl with red-hair who has not been spoiled by physical love, who is still in her age of innocence. Wanting to possess her smell, he smothers her; he drinks in the scent that made him feel ecstatic for the first time in his life. To his disappointment, he discovers that with death the smell gradually disappears. Grenouille now has a goal - to be able to preserve the ultimate scent. No matter what it takes him - murdering 24 innocent maidens - he wanted to become the one who will create the ultimate scent. He wants to see the world bow down before this scent and adore him as the Creator.
Why I liked it? - I would like to acknowledge the brilliance of the translation. The language of the book is consistent to the storytelling. As a mentioned earlier, the novel is written in the fairy tale style. It allows the story to present different moral points of view without being preachy. The author leaves it to the reader to make a decision whose side to take. You are the maker - he just tells you a story.
Whether you will feel sorry for Grenouille or outraged at his ambition, Perfume will not leave you indifferent. It will stir emotions and passions; it will challenge your comforts; it will leave you wanting more. A must have and a must read book. A classic!