60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on 19 January 2004
I’d heard a lot of good things about Patrick Suskind’s Perfume before I read it. It seemed to be one of those rare books that came out of no where and has slowly, effortlessly become a classic of modern European literature.
In many ways it is unique – the life story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the unloved, abandoned street urchin born in a putrid gutter in eighteenth-century Paris moments before his mother died. What makes Grenouille different to all the other orphans though is the fact that he has no odour, no smell at all; and he has the most remarkable nose that can not only pick out a scent from miles away but can also unravel its strands until every element has been teased out. As Grenouille ambles through his life from friendless child to a tanner’s labourer, and then onto the position of apprentice to Baldini, a washed-out, cheating perfumer, it becomes clear that Grenouille has not only the ability to pluck scents from the air but also to create the most wondrous perfumes the world has ever known.
Grenouille doesn’t want to just produce magical scents that will take Europe by storm and give him unimaginable wealth though. He wants to create something else, something just for himself, and he will stop at nothing to achieve this. So, his journey takes him out of Paris and finally to Grasse in southern France where the true abomination of this creature truly comes to light.
Perfume is in many ways an epic novel and whilst it wanes a little in the middle, the plot glides with a steady pace across France, over many years and a sizeable cast of fascinating and colourfully drawn caricatures. Suskind succeeds in the seemingly impossible. He writes (and is translated) with such skill that the scents waft off the page right in front of you, whether in the steaming, putrid streets of Paris or the pungent flower crops of Grasse.
If anything the only flaw is a climax in Grasse that verges on farcical, and the fact that Suskind draws Grenouille as such a disagreeable protagonist that it is very hard for the reader to have any sympathy for such a vile monster. The real enjoyment of the book, however, comes from the delusional, selfish, naïve, cruel, corrupt and – above all – ignorant – cast of thousands that roam the back streets of the plot. The ultimate comeuppance for some of these renegades that infiltrate Grenouille’s story are truly pantomime and hysterically funny. If anything, these minor characters sparkle more brightly than Grenouille himself and so leave the protagonist looking rather soulless in comparison (maybe the author’s wish, I don’t know). All–in–all though, Perfume whisks you into the vile, crazy world of eighteenth-century France and the mind of a truly heartless murderer. When you turn the last page, the odour is left with you for days to come and that, surely, is the true gift of a masterpiece.
65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on 4 May 2001
Poor Grenouille! Born in 18th century Paris on one of the hottest days in summer, amid a stinking pile of fish guts. Not a great start to life but it gets worse...he has no personal odour to speak of and as such, people don't seem to like him, though they can't say why. Grenouille is special however, he has one of the finest 'noses' in Paris, able to distinguish and isolate odours like no other. His talent therefore, is considered quite valuable, particularly in the perfume business. But it is not perfume that Grenouille wants to create, rather, it is a special kind of scent that will make people feel attracted to him. In order to create this special scent he must extract the odours from a special kind of woman and the only way to do that is to kill them. This is a fascinatingly sick tale with a sad and haunting ending you will remember for a long time to come.
One of the things that I found so fascinating about this book was Susskind's in-depth knowledge of the olfactory senses; the way people, places and objects have certain kinds of odours which can be stored in the memory and recalled at a later date. His descriptions were so well written and convincing that I could almost smell them. Susskind's style of writing and use of language, brings to life the decadence and stench which must of existed in 18th century Paris, giving the reader and insight into the realities of the era.
I cannot say that this novel is unputdownable as I had to put it down many times in order to absorb much of what I had read, and also to bring me back up for some fresh air. This would have to be one of the most bizarre books that I have ever read but I am so glad that I did read it because it now belongs to my collection of favourites. The sheer brilliance of Perfume places it in a genre of its own.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 4 November 2000
The minute I've closed the book, I've realized that good books don't come to an end as I thought for some time. I was suddenly richer than everyone around me. It can't be explained, but it's the feeling one has after reading great books. Usually one can not describe books, disect them into mathematic equations because all that mood they induce vanishes. I'll try to do this without spoiling the aroma of The Perfume. It's about the tragic destiny of someone who cannot understand the world around him without smelling it. The words gain consistence only after smelling the "object" they define. Imagine undestanding love through your nose. It sounds silly but it's the way our character does it. It's the smell, the scent that makes people irresistible or hated.
62 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on 30 December 1999
I have to say that you either love or hate the character of Grenouille in Suskind's novel. In some respects, he is not unlike Mary Shelly's Frankenstein; a monster almost, but not quite human - an outcast from society, evoking in turn disgust, ridicule and sympathy. It is indeed a very strange book - I don't think you could easily classify it simply as historical, romantic or horror - it is a combination of all plus that extra something - smell - in all it's wonderful, descriptive glory. This much overlooked sense is brought to vivid life - it adds that extra dimension that helps to make this novel such a strangely compelling read. I could not make up my mind whether or not I was actually enjoying the book, but once I had started it, I could not put it down. Even several months after reading it, it lingers in the memory like the smells and settings it describes in such glorious detail. I know that I will read it again and again with the same mixture of repulsion and fascination. If that is the mark of a good book, then this is it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I loved this book for the first third, wasn't sure in the middle and then loved it again at the end.
The real hook in at the beginning was the first couple of pages describing the stench of life in 18th century Paris. As the book progressed the language used to help you to smell the perfumes was beautiful and frequently made my nose switch just to imagine the wonderful(and not so wonderful perfumes).
The relationships between the main character and everyone he came across were really interesting, in that he did not care at all about the people just wanted to use them towards his final aim. Everyone he met just wanted to use him for their purpose and really didn't notice that they were being used too!!
When I got to the middle of the book, Grenouille was by then behaving very oddly and away from any other form of civilisation. As I found him a very unlikeable character, I struggled to believe in what he was doing.
The sections on the book about the creation of scents and essential oils were fascinating, always great to learn about new things through reading a novel.
I would recommend this book to most people but not a classic novel.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 9 August 2012
I picked up this book knowing only that when it was made into a film it didn't work. The concept was too hard to turn into film. Having read it I can clearly understand why, not everything can be explained by sight alone and smell is one of them.
As for the book, it was good, liked the idea of all the smells but somehow it didn't evoke anything in me. I didn't feel grossed out by Paris or refreshed in the cave. There were some parts in the story that were just too long, passages that went too far into the mad stream of consciousness of the characters. The part in the cave could have been 1/2 the length, which is odd as the ending was all too quick. It felt like the author was getting carried away with himself and then remembered he had a limited word count. Therefore cramming the very point of his characters being into a few small paragraphs.
I didn't care for any of the characters or the situations. I wasn't shocked by anything in the book and read it in a matter of days. Yet somehow I did like the book, I enjoyed reading it. But the overall the book was cold tea smell than freshly baked bread.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 7 December 2003
Grenouille is a sociopath. A hideous miasmic thing, endowed with a gift that would give spies an indetectable and ustoppable advantage if science were ever to be in a position to imitate art! Having no scent of his own, seemingly exuding no pheromones, sweat, or any of the poigniant aromas that we use to identify each other, Grenouille is invisible; a man of no consequence, no threat, and no presence in his World. Were these his only attributes he would have been doomed to a life of disregard, but he was born with another astounding quality, that brings with it the ability to change identity in a moment, at his own whim. His sense of smell is so far beyond that of ours, that he is able to deconsrtuct the scents and smells in his world in his mind, and then take each element to build his own bespoke aroma to suit his particular agenda. He is a chamaeleon, an unemotive machine who proceeds to rob the aromatic fingerprints of those around him as he determines to make himself the most desirable of all things.
The cloaks of scent he can put on and throw off in a moment, coupled with his sociopathy make Grenouille a very dangerous man. He has the power to be 'all things to all men', or nothing at all. He uses his 'talent' to wicked ends, and fantastic though the story is, there is much which can be taken seriously.
On reading this book, you may find yourself immersed more deeply in the scents of your World. I looked at my dog in a new light, and I realilsed for the first time why dogs are significantly better at assessing us in the moment, than we are at assessing them. Next time you splash on aftershave remember - there's an element of Grenouille's philosophy behind the mask of attraction you are donning!
It's a wonderful book, unique in its storyline, the prose is engaging and never dry, and every development is a surprise.
One of my favourite books of all time.
44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
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.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 3 March 2007
A compelling study of obsession, this is beautifully and evocatively written. The author has an outstanding talent for describing odours and how they affect Jean-Baptiste Grenouille - and how his lack of a personal odour affects those he meets.
A truly horrifying story which will remain with you long after you finish the book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 23 December 2010
Scarily insightful and poignantly beautiful. This book is one of a kind where it searches the true nature of the human character. It's quite fast paced, but not so much so to inflict any carelessness to the novel. There are many complex ideas to ponder, and before you know it you've reached the end of the book.
After the book you could be wondering why comic books always create heroes when it is so easy for them to become accidental villians.