Have you ever smelt a book?
And I don’t mean walking into your local book store and cunningly sniffing the books; don’t judge, I’ve seen it happen.
It sounds like a peculiar question but in Süskind’s first novel; the classic ‘Perfume’, that’s exactly what you will do.
The book made me feel slightly uneasy, in the same way as a portrait staring straight at you sends shivers down your back. There is something quite disconcerting about having mundane everyday smells picked apart and described to you; the human for instance is comprised of, amongst other things: Cat faeces, cheese and vinegar… just delightful, thanks Pat (I can call you Pat yeah?). It is in descriptions such as that, that you understand the hatred and at the same time longing Grenouille has for normality.
But really, why would not having a scent throw you off-course in life so badly? Well I think the book describes it perfectly here:
“Odours have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odour cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”
This book has two core levels that you could follow, there is the foremost level of a deranged man who lacks any emotion for anything other than scent, who wants only what is in his interest and cares very little for life. And then there is the underlying journey of self-discovery that Grenouille is on throughout the book, from unknown misfit child to his somewhat humbling end. If you so choose the first you may be pleasantly let down by everything but the wonderful language. However I chose the latter, because everybody deserves a chance.
Despite the feeling of unease and hate that are laced through the text, this book does not fail to live up to it reputation as a classic. It is beautifully written, and you finish with a feeling of understanding; understanding Grenouille in a way that many have not, as a person. Despite this book being a story of murder, the one memory I will carry away with me, is not of those scenes but of the scents, from the putrid 18th century France to the sweet girls, the scents that Grenouille covets above all else.
You can buy this book at most bookshops:
Come see me at QBD and I will hook you up
Mary Martin Bookshop
Imprints (on hindley)
This post is also very helpful from the guys at Already Home from the City Council