Perfume is best described as an olfactory Gothic fable. Patrick
Suskind, a first-time novelist and playwright, does not reveal
the story in stages but plunges headlong into the life story
of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille as some sort of a dark 18th century
fairy tale in a pressing pace that brings to mind the sensory
overload felt by the protagonist – or his nose –
to be exact.
was disappointing then when the story turned out to be somewhat
inconsistent between its first and second parts. In the first
part, Perfume is highly entertaining about the birth and apprenticeship
of Grenouille, due in no small part to the amazing description
of smells that Suskind conjures. He has to be the best in
the business in terms of recounting the scent of a brass doorknob.
While there are some points in the book where Suskind strays
into stuff better suited to magic realism, the reader is quickly
brought to earth by the pure believability of the incredible
things described in the book. This is undoubtedly a result
of painstaking research undertaken by the author.
in the second part of the book, where Grenouille became some
tormented but murderous messiah of the scents, the story took
a turn into the incredulous and excessive. The resultant narrative
scope/scale is awkward and unwieldy, and this probably produced
an ending that is quite savage and very much uncalled for.
with all things considered, this book is highly recommended
simply because it is an original.
“In the period of which we speak, there reigned in the
cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women.
The streets stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the
stairwells stank of moldering wood and rat droppings, the
kitchens of spoiled cabbage and mutton fat; the unaired parlors
stank of stale dust, the bedrooms of greasy sheets, damp featherbeds,
and the pungently sweet aroma of chamber pots. The stench
of sulfur rose from the chimneys, the stench of caustic lyes
from the tanneries, and from the slaughterhouses came the
stench of congealed blood. People stank of sweat and unwashed
clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth,
from their bellies that of onions, and from their bodies,
if they were no longer very young, came the stench of rancid
cheese and sour milk and tumorous disease. The rivers stank,
the marketplaces stank, the churches stank, it stank beneath
the bridges and in the palaces.The peasant stank as did the
priest, the apprentice as did his master’s wife, the
whole of the aristocracy stank, even the king himself stank,
stank like a rank lion, and the queen like an old goat, summer
grabs your attention from the start and does not relent. Even
though this story relies on a matter-of-fact narrative voice
and there are no climatic scenes, you will want to read it
to the end.
by Lim Mun Pong