I came to this book expecting to find crime novel, or a thriller, about a serial killer. Instead I found a beautifully written and deeply researched novel about a young Frenchman with an unusual sense of smell and a unique gift for the art of the perfumier. In fact, the murders of young girls, so emphasised in the film, take second place to the marvellous descriptions of how perfume is made, and the way in which Grenouille gradually infiltrates the profession, becoming a master perfumier due to his prodigious gifts.
The story starts in 18th century Paris, and Suskind treats us to a vivid word picture of the terrible conditions its poorer residents had to live in, and the vast range of vile aromas surrounding them (and emanating from them!). We read of Grenouille rise from foundling to journeyman, and his obsession with creating the ultimate perfume - the very essence of a young virgin (OK, so there are murders in this book after all).
Grenouille eventually has to flee south, and resides for a period in a cave in the volcanic region of the Auvergne, eventually emerging to resume his career in the centre of the perfume trade in the South of France. Here he makes a huge impact on the people he lives among due to his fantastic gifts, and towards the end of the novel, he commits further murders in pursuit of "essence of virgin". The novel takes a final departure from reality at this stage, as the townsfolk who have assembled to see the perpertrator executed (in a vilely imaginative way), are overcome with a perfume which drives them into a long-lasting sensual orgy.
This is a book for those who can revel in word-pictures and can let their imagination take-off under the spell of this excellent author. They will find they can hardly put the book down, while those of a more literal and logical turn of mind may find it just too unbelievable and perhaps a little too wordy.