Monday, June 05, 2006

Perfume - by Patrick Suskind

I just finished reading the above novel. I hadn't heard of it before and it was given to me by a pal to read. I had been telling this pal about my theory of the past being full of bad odours (which was also subject of my blog on 2nd May - "Smell....the sense of the past"). He reckoned I should read this novel "Perfume", and gave me the book (thanks G!).

Patrick Suskind is a German author and the book was originally published in the German language as Das Perfum in 1985. I was a bit nervous that the translation into English might dull the quality of writing. However it still proved to be a colourful and interesting read.

It's a most unusual story. Set in France (mainly in Paris) during the mid 18th century it covers the birth, childhood and adult life of a fictional bizarre man called Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. Grenouille was born with an incredible sense of smell (and memory of smells) and also he himself has absolutely no body odour. As he grows up his driven passion of the pursuit of perfection in analysis and derivation of pleasure from odours develops him into a murderer. He also demonstrates phenomenal skills as an expert in the art of perfumery.

The beginning few pages of the book includes an amazing description of the stench of Paris in the mid 1700s. It made me smile as it confirmed even more strongly than I had thought how bad odours were a big feature in the daily routine of life in the distant past.

As I say it's an unusual book and makes you think a bit differently in lots of ways. It's not a bad yarn but of course includes plenty of fantasy. It also covers life in 18th century France quite well. I notice the book has received many good reviews and in fact it's just about to be released as a movie with Dustin Hoffman starring. It also is the featured book this month in Ryan Tubridy's book review club in his RTE morning radio programme.

"Perfume" is unlikely to hit the heights as a major work of literature but it is a different and interesting read. It really makes you think more on the sense of smell.

22 comments:

Omaniblog said...

I loved it. Absolutely loved it and went round smelling everything for ages. The wiffe loved it too.
I didn't know it was being made into a film, but Hoffman should be a good choice. I say this only because he was so perfect in Rain Man.
But just remembering Perfume is a delight.
Well said.

John of Dublin said...

Ah, someone else who read it! Cool. It sure does make you think about the sense which I reckon we think of least.

I understand Hoffman is actually playing the part of the old perfume trader on the bridge in Paris (Baldini?). Some young English actor called Ben Whishaw is playing Grenouille.

Anonymous said...

I'm currently reading it in my freshman seminar (Modern Fiction: The Doors of Perception). I thought it was a marvelous book and contained a certain richness of detail and dimension...but I'm struggling with writing the essay. The topic is on the religious symbolism in the novel and it's a bit of a struggle.
Anyways, it's nice to know the book's been well received and I look forward to the movie!
peace.

John of Dublin said...

Hi Anon. Religious symbolism in Perfume? Mmmh, that would make one think deeper and re-read it. It's amazing how academic studies will try to challenge one further.

I seem to recall Grenouille had zero relgious interest but there certainly could be some symbolism lurking in parts.

The last section with the practical orgy could maybe reflect some old testament demonised excesses I suppose. Now that I think of it I wonder if Grenouille's crude and humble birth under a street trader's table had some pseudo anti-Christian symbolism. Then the fact that nobody wanted to take in the baby. Even repelled by the clergyman. Mmmh, you've go my mind going now!!

Karim Fanous said...

Olfactory sensation, it's a sweet damnation! This book is simply brilliant. Never before have I been grasped so intensely by a book. Especially considering how bizarre and twisted the story and concept are. I have a terrible sense of smell and to read the literal embodiment of all these scents is an epiphany, a real mind bender.

Suskind frames the world in a way that many of us will not have experienced before, not with landscapes and visualisation, but with references to smells! Not only are his descriptions vivid and powerful, but his story telling is first rate. You will feel this as you find yourself surprised as you begin to sympathise and feel sorry for a man who is at the end of the day a spiteful, jealous murderer!

Brush all the high brow aside, and this book is simply a great read.

I am a singer-songwriter and this book is one of my most faithful companions. I have read it so many times and found myself meditating on the concepts and writing so often that it has inspired me to write a song - please please please check it out and let me know what you think!!!!! You can find the song and more trivia about the book at www.myspace.com/patricksuskindsperfume

Karim Fanous said...

Olfactory sensation, it's a sweet damnation! This book is simply brilliant. Never before have I been grasped so intensely by a book. Especially considering how bizarre and twisted the story and concept are. I have a terrible sense of smell and to read the literal embodiment of all these scents is an epiphany, a real mind bender.

Suskind frames the world in a way that many of us will not have experienced before, not with landscapes and visualisation, but with references to smells! Not only are his descriptions vivid and powerful, but his story telling is first rate. You will feel this as you find yourself surprised as you begin to sympathise and feel sorry for a man who is at the end of the day a spiteful, jealous murderer!

Brush all the high brow aside, and this book is simply a great read.

I am a singer-songwriter and this book is one of my most faithful companions. I have read it so many times and found myself meditating on the concepts and writing so often that it has inspired me to write a song - please please please check it out and let me know what you think!!!!! You can find the song and more trivia about the book at www.myspace.com/patricksuskindsperfume

perfume tester said...

There is not an ultimate advice because everyone interprets odors in their own way, and the same fragrance can smell

totally different considering type of skin, hair color, temperament and even the season of a year. There are important

nuances if you do not want to seem vulgar or lacking of taste.

perfume creed said...

Choosing the right perfume can be difficult and because it is also considered an intimate gift buying the wrong perfume

can backfire on you and get you the opposite result of that which you hoped for.

The first thing you need to do is do some homework, meaning research. Look at your lady's perfume bottles, the ones that

are nearly empty will be her favorites. If there is one there that is nearly full chances are she doesn't wear it often

or doesn't like it. Hint around and ask her what types of fragrances she likes and dislikes.

Humans are very sensory oriented and our sense of smell is no different. Certain perfumes can elicit strong reactions in

both the wearer and the person reacting to the scent. Perfumes are made not only to attract but to also relax someone. If

you aren't totally sure what kind of perfume to buy you can always play it safe and get something in the aromatherapy

line. If you go this route, bear in mind that vanilla scents are considered to relax and a peppermint or lemon scent will

be more stimulating.

women perfume said...

Shopping for perfumes or personal fragrances can be a daunting task, particularly if it's for a friend or lover.

Obviously online at Myshopping.com.au you cannot compare the actual scent of different fragrances. But, once you have a

fairly good idea of what you are looking for, you can compare the different offerings from different brands and vendors

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somewhat.

obsession-perfume said...

The history of perfume oils dates back to ancient Egypt when these fine scented oils were presented to royalty as gifts. In modern times, however, when the word "perfume" is said, most people think of department store fragrances, which consist mainly of the concentrated oil and alcohol solution. Nevertheless, as more and more people are finding out about them, perfume oils are experiencing great popularity. Here are some interesting facts about perfume oils:

coco perfume said...

The history of perfume oils dates back to ancient Egypt when these fine scented oils were presented to royalty as gifts. In modern times, however, when the word "perfume" is said, most people think of department store fragrances, which consist mainly of the concentrated oil and alcohol solution. Nevertheless, as more and more people are finding out about them, perfume oils are experiencing great popularity. Here are some interesting facts about perfume oils:

perfume blue said...

Ah….the sweet, smell of perfume! Today's market is flooded with hundreds and hundreds of different fragrances ranging from floral to woodsy. Most women love the smell of perfume, wearing it even when going to the grocery store. The problem is that perfume allergy for some women, is anything but nice.

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pheromones attract women said...

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Anonymous said...

Im working on a project for school and i was wondering if anyone found any irony or metaphors in the book? any help would be great!

John of Dublin said...

Hi Anonymous. Good question.

One obvious irony is that Grenouille has powerful sense of smell but no body odour of his own. Also the notion of seeking beauty and perfection in smell resulting in murders is ironic. The whole perfume business on the bridge with Baldini and contrasts with Grenouille has many elements of irony. The dramatic ending I guess has ironies with the ecstasies in contrast to the environment of a murderer. It's over 3 years since I read the book so it's hard to recall all aspects.

eula_w said...

I use pheromone cologne as my perfume. :)

Interesting reading in here.

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Viagra said...

This sounds like a lovely book!

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