Bibliophile recommends Perfume: the story of a murderer by Patrick Süskind

I recently re-read this brilliant story for the umpteenth time, and I have to say that I still love it however often I read it.

In pre-revolutionary 18th century France, Grenouille, pathetic and decidedly unpleasant, is born with a handicap: his body has no smell of it’s own; and a genius: he has a perfect sense of smell. These two remarkable characteristics combine to make him an outcast from human society. Consequently, he grows up a sociopath with no respect for human life. His genius opens him up to exploitation by those who recognise the possibilities of such a brilliant sense of smell, and he becomes a perfumer’s “assistant”, making the perfumes while his master takes the credit for them. Finally, when he has learned all he can about the perfumer’s art and experimented with the different methods of extracting smell from all kinds of things, living and dead, he sets out to produce the most perfect and delectable smell of all: the scent that produces love, and which he will kill to obtain.

This is a great novel, definitely one of the 10 best historical novels I have read, and I have read many. The writing is brilliant, and Süskind draws up an image of France that seems realistic to the point where you can imagine the smells, the dirt and the brutality of life in that era. And even though Grenouille is thoroughly unpleasant and totally without conscience, you still can’t help rooting for him because of the way other people treat him. That is, right up to the point when the murders begin…

The story revels in descriptions of the world of smells, ranging from the delightful scent of freshly opened roses to the grossness of a plague graveyard, and it is one of the rare books that I have read where it really is quite alright for the author to turn away from the story and go into in-depth descriptions. In this case, although those passages do not move the story onwards, they do make Grenouille and the time in which he lived come all the more alive.

My only complaint about the story is that Grenouille’s execution (and I use that word for good reason) of his final project, which he has spent most of the story preparing for, is described in haste that is surprising considering how slowly and lovingly his other activities are described, and the ending, while grotesquely in synch with Grenouille’s life up to then, is too abrupt to be satisfying.

Rating: Brilliantly told story about a genius whose talent leads him to crime. Slightly flawed, but good none the less. 5 stars.

Here is an excerpt from the opening passages of the book.


I love, love, LOVE Perfume. It's a fantastic and sophisticated book. A friend highly recommended it,so I took it out of the library then bought it. It soared to my top-ten all-time favourite book list. So glad am I that you've brought it up. Cheers!
Maxine said…
Hello again
I thought you might be interested in my "crime fiction" collection of good books, authors and websites on Connotea. The url of my collection is:

I have given you your own tag (bibliophile).

If you want to add any links, give them the tag "crime fiction" (as well as anything else), and they will be on the Detective's list, as I have given that tag to all entries on my list.

All best!

Popular Posts