Perfume: The Story of A Murderer Book Review

Cover of Perfume: The Story of A Murderer (1985)

Introduction

 Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (German: Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders ) is a 1985 literary historical  fantasy novel by German writer Patrick Süskind. The novel explores the sense of smell and its relationship with the emotional meanings that scents may have. An acclaimed bestseller and international sensation, Patrick Suskind‘s classic novel provokes a terrifying examination of what happens when one man’s indulgence in his greatest passion – his sense of smell – leads to murder. This novel was later adapted into a famous movie in 2006 with the same name, starring Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman, Karolina Herfurth and others.

Ben Whishaw as Grenouille in Perfume: The Story of A Murderer (2006)

About The Author

Patrick Süskind ( born 26 March 1949) is a German writer and screenwriter, known best for his novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, first published in 1985. Süskind lives as a recluse in Munich, in Seeheim , and in France at Montolieu. After spending the 1970s writing what he has characterized as “short unpublished prose pieces and longer un-produced screenplays”, Patrick Süskind was catapulted to fame in the 1980s by the monodrama Der Kontrabass [The Double Bass, 1981:], which became an instant success and a favourite of the German stage. In 1985 his status as literary wunderkind was confirmed with the publication of the novel Das Parfüm. Die Geschichte eines Mörders [Perfume. The Story of a Murderer], which quickly topped the European best-seller list and eventually sold millions of copies worldwide.The public knows little about him; he has withdrawn from literary society and does not grant interviews or allow himself to be photographed.

Ben Whishaw as Grenouille and Karolina Herfurth as Girl with Plums in Perfume: The Story of A Murderer (2006)

Storyline of The Novel

The novel is set in Paris in the 1700’s and follows the life of a man named Jean-Baptiste Grenouille who is born with an incredibly strong sense of smell. His nose is so keen that he is able to smell people coming, can locate lost items simply by their scent, and can catalogue smells in his mind. Whilst his sense of smell may be keen, his heart is empty and he seems to be completely unrestrained by everyday emotions. As a young lad, Grenouille encounters the irresistible smell of a young girl entering puberty. He promptly murders her and sniffs every inch of her body to catalogue the unique scent. Believing it is his destiny to bottle such a scent, Grenouille decides to pursue a career as a master perfumer, he works as an apprentice where his unique skills quickly make him the best perfumers in France. The story then follows Grenouille as he becomes a famed perfumer and experiments in scents that allow him to either go unnoticed or incite various emotions among those who smell it. His obsession with scents goes on to reaches a head with extreme consequences for all.

Ben Whishaw as Grenouille in Perfume: The Story of A Murderer (2006)

Analysis of The Storyline

A book about the sense of smell could have been a dull affair, were it not for the excellent way it is written by Suskind. His use of language is beautiful and his descriptions make even some with a dull nose like mine feel like they can smell the essences on the page. It’s not hard to see why this book has become such a modern classic given how excellent Suskind’s prose is. I challenge anyone not to read this and not then start using their nose a little more.

Scene from Perfume:The Story of A Murderer (2006)

The character of Grenouille is both fascinating, sympathetic, and yet also repulsive. In early life he is beat down at every corner and one can’t help but root for the character as he tries to rise above his terrible beginnings. As he becomes more in control of his life, Grenouille quickly becomes insidious and deceptive and there’s something very creepy in the way he is described as living like a tick. Grenouille does indeed live like a parasite, taking whatever he needs from people. As he becomes more unstable, eventually resorting to killing a young virgin, Grenouille turns into a monster, but a compelling one nonetheless. Like Humbert Humbert from Lolita, he’s a character you feel bad for sympathising with, though Grenouille may be a little more redeemable.

Scene from Perfume: The Story of A Murderer (2006)

Criticism of The Storyline

this is in every sense an olfactory novel gives a striking sensory immediacy to the fiction itself. ”Perfume” is a historical novel but one in which the sheer physicality of its theme lends it an honorary present tense. And if Grenouille is the hero of the novel, his obsessions are also its informing presence. Just as he has difficulty with words ”designating non-smelling objects, with abstract ideas and the like,” so the novel itself creates an elemental world in which such abstract matters are only of token significance. The nose is defined here by a priest as ”the primitive organ of smell, the basest of the senses,” with its powers springing from ”the darkest days of paganism”; but it flourishes in Grenouille, even in an age of ”enlightenment,” and the unspoken message of ”Perfume” is that it flourishes still. The point about genuine historical fiction is that it is primarily concerned with the contemporary world. This is not a historical romance, full of ”Prithees!” and strange objects known as poniards, but a meditation on the nature of death, desire and decay.

Scene from Perfume: The Story of A Murderer (2006)

Conclusion

The story of perfume made us really re-evaluate the importance of scents and how certain smells can influence us on a subconscious level. It makes one wonder how much of our everyday lives are dictated by scents without us even realising it. Throughout the book, you get the feeling pressure is mounting and it ends in a finale that sees an orgy of scents come together in one hell of an ending that isn’t likely to leave you any time soon.