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Patrick Suskind
255 Pages
Publisher: Movie Tie-in Trade Paperback edition (November 2006)
ISBN: 0307277763
Price: S$22.05 (Available in Borders)






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.

It 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.

However, 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.

Nevertheless, 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 and winter.”


Perfume 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.

Review by Lim Mun Pong



. Perfume



This book review is made possible with the kind sponsor of BORDERS


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