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gertrude

April 2018

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reading

What a stink: Perfume



Over on the Cornflower blog recently, I opined that reading time expands to fit the quality of the book being read. So if you have a can’t-put-it-down page-turner to read you will miraculously find more time in which to read it. In proof of this theory, yesterday I read the whole of Perfume by Patrick Süskind.

It was first published in 1985 and is one of those books I’d never read through being put off by hype. Mistake! The book is subtitled ‘The story of a murderer’, so you know what to expect. I shall never read anything by Stieg Larsson or Henning Mankell (I couldn’t watch Wallander on television) because I can’t stand gore or sadism. If you told me a book was about perverted eroticism I’d probably put it back on the shelf PDQ. Perfume is not the gory type of murder story but it is deeply horrible and unsettling and yes, about perverted eroticism of an extraordinary kind.

It’s set in eighteenth century France and from the opening pages describing the smells of Paris, feels authentic. Now imagine that into this world of contrasts between filth and luxe an unwanted child is born who is like a cross between Gollum and Uriah Heep and who also happens to be a genius. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (variously described as a ‘tick’ or a ‘spider’) is the most unprepossessing child anyone who comes across him has ever met. He causes unexplained fear. The reason? He has no human smell, though no one realizes this. His own sense of smell, though, is phenomenal and he lives almost entirely through it. This monster has the gifts to make him the greatest parfumier in the world but instead uses his talents in pursuit of power; power of a strange kind which only he will appreciate he has. Well, I did say it was perverted.

Apart from a fantastical section in the middle of the book I found this a gripping read and quite extraordinary.

Comments

> reading time expands to fit the quality of the book being read

Yes.

I think you'd like City of Tiny Lights - there are a couple of nasty bits, but nothing I couldn't cope with (and I don't like gore or sadism either), and you'll love the protagonist's dad. I can't pass it on because I was lent it.
Thanks for the tip!
I'm afraid I never made it past the first page. The description of the smells made me nauseous.

I read another one of his, The Pigeon. I only remember that I liked it.
It had the opposite effect on me, making me wonder what on earth was coming.