Monday, July 29, 2013

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

The Scent of a Murderer (Murder, He Wrote Week)

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind is about a man who has a serious obsession with scents.  Set in eighteenth century France, Genouille is born with a prodigious proboscis, not in size like Cyrano de Bergerac, but wholly in his ability to sniff out and differentiate all odors. His snout involuntarily works overtime.  To him smells are like a drug, a serious boost in his serotonin levels.  Even as a young child, he memorized and categorized all odors he encountered in the file cabinet of his mind. It’s all he ever thinks of. He has an uncanny gift of being able to check out any scent in his nasal library as if it were a book, or drink it in like intoxicating alcohol. He follows his nose to the perfect career as a perfumer’s apprentice, where like a true craftsman, he begins experimenting with all the various kinds of odors. And though he eventually moves on from the perfume profession, scents are ingrained in his being. He continues experiments to create scents that manipulate people into being kind or caring.  But like the crazy, creepy guy he is, it’s never enough.  Finally, he seeks out very specialized ingredients to create the perfect scent.  This book is dark and disturbing, but it’s also very original and thought-provoking.  I liked it.  The murders Grenouille commits are not graphic or detailed; they’re just necessary parts of the story: the story of a very unusual man whose life is ruled by his ultra-sensitive sense of smell.  If you’re looking for a light detective story, this isn't it.  If you’re looking for something very unique, you may want to consider this book.

Here’s what my book club had to say about it.
This book wasn’t exactly what we were expecting.  We weren’t slinking through dark alleys following a serial killer around waiting with bated breath to see his next move, as we had perhaps hoped.  In fact, there wasn’t that much action at all.  Sure there was a killing and later some more.  But this is not an action thriller by any means. Not everyone finished, though that wasn’t entirely the book’s fault.  It is summer, after all.  Busy, busy.  Sounds like the general reaction was ambivalence.  Those who read it mostly liked the book, though they agree that it was perhaps a little over descriptive and dry at times—like when he was on the mountain.  Most just wanted him to get off the mountain already.  But those who chugged through to the end urged those in the middle or towards the end to plod on.  The end was, let’s say, interesting.  Worth the trip. 

Update:  9/15/13.  My sister just finished the book and was not impressed.  She wants her three months back.  That's how long it took her to drag herself through the book.  Of course it was summer and she didn't devote loads of time to it at once.  But she hung in because she kept thinking it's going to get better, and also because we urged her to read the ending which we thought would spark her interest. Wrong!  The ending really threw her over the edge from "ok" to "very strong dislike."  She said the ending was odd, irritating, and even gross.  And as she spat out those words her thumbs took two dramatic turns downward.  :(  This was clearly not a love match. 

Happy Reading,

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