Author: Patrick Süskind.
I remember seeing the film adaptation of this when I was younger and being enthralled by how intriguing and mysterious it was. On my friend’s recommendation I decided to give the book a go. The story follows Jean-Baptiste, a man who was abandoned at birth and many times as a child because he had no scent and was believed to be cursed. He is gifted at perfumery and hence works to capture every scent, even his own. The setting is France in the early to-mid 1700’s. It moves from Paris to the countryside and into smaller towns.
What hits you immediately when reading this is the language. It’s beautifully written. The use of sensual language is powerful. The description of smells and scents is overwhelming which is the purpose of the novel. The word use when describing the thick, pungent closeness of Paris city was realistic and we get a sense of the crowded, fetid stench of the dirty streets. This comes in contrast with the openness and freshness of the French countryside with the fresh wind and flowers. The language use was one of the most engaging I’ve ever read. It really suited the plot and was the highlighting feature of the novel.
The plot in part 1 was quite engaging. The Paris passages were exciting and Jean-Baptiste’s apprenticeship in the Perfumery was interesting to read. It does get slightly less interesting when he leaves Paris. The mountain section where he goes on a sort of cleanse is bizarre. I got a sort of Plato’s cave feel from his philosophical thoughts and his eventual exit of his sanctuary. The plot picks up again when he starts murdering women to obtain their scents but I feel that the plot wasn’t tight enough. There wasn’t enough murder to call it a crime novel or make it exciting. There wasn’t enough drama either. I just wanted more from the novel in terms of engagement or excitement.
I didn’t feel much for any of the characters. They weren’t that fleshed out, and I didn’t connect a lot with Jean-Baptiste.
Overall, I think the language is an amazing feat of this novel. It’s worth reading it from that point of view and getting the experience the scents, but I feel the plot lets the novel down.