May 24th, 2014
Perfume by Patrick Süskind. What a riveting novel. I read it in a day, which I can’t remember ever having done before; a breathless binge, gulping chapters and chapters, forgetting to swallow.
The novel’s about a scent-prodigy, Grenouille, who grows up in Paris in the late 18th century. He’s not only a gifted man, but a supernaturally gifted man, one who can identify odors by even their remotest traces, find them in the dark, and track them expertly through the stenchy, dense heart of the City of Lights circa 1750. Industrious, obsessive, mole-like, Grenouille is forever seeking new scents to experience. He processes everything around him nose-first, like an animal; all other modalities a distant second. He’s also a sociopath of the highest order, from an early age decisively cut off from humanity, from all empathy and fellow feeling, living only through his eerie gift for detecting, tracking, identifying & mixing scent.
What’s more, he casts no discernible odor himself, which makes this already strange being even more supernatural, alien, wraith-like. Combine Grenouille’s odorlessness with his endless thirst for new scents, for sucking up experience through his nose, and what you have for a protagonist is a kind of scent-vampire (think of the classic description of the vampire casting no reflection in a mirror).
As the novel unfolds, Grenouille comes more and more into his own, realizing the extent of his powers and how he can use them to achieve greater and ghastlier ends. He stops at nothing to learn all he can about alchemical extraction of scents from matter, willingly enduring an apprenticeship to a washed-up talentless rich perfumer, Baldini, who takes credit for all his new underling-savant’s astonishing creations. Eventually, having fine-tuned his scent-extraction skills under Baldini (whereas his talent for identifying and mixing scents, being already virtuosic beyond measure, needed no further refinement), he realizes the olfactory sense is the most primitive, most direct channel to the brain, and that the way to influence and dominate others to meet his own ends is through nostrils. He will do this by extracting & making use of the rarest, most potent scent of all, regardless of what heinous acts he has to commit to obtain it. (Read More . . .)