Monday, September 3, 2007

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

Spoilers Alert!

This is the story of a murderer. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born in 1738 France. To be precise, at the foulest spot in Paris. His mother left him for dead immediately after his birth (her own death came some weeks later) ... and so began his stubborn fight for survival. To say that his childhood was wretched was putting it mildly. He just clung on to life as passively and resolutely as a tick, no matter what life threw at him. He survived against all odds through sheer stubbornness, cunning and amazing self-preservation.

Jean-Baptiste was an anomaly – he possessed the greatest nose in all of history (in that he could detect and differentiate thousands of scents, in fact, the scents of all things) but he himself did not have any odour. The driving force that kept him alive was his total immersion in the realm of scent, and later, his obsession in creating the one perfect scent in the entire world, and finding the method to create it.

He first sniffed that perfect scent when he was 15 – the same year he committed his first murder. The next time he murdered, he was 27. In the intervening years, he persevered through travails, all of which were either ironic or macabre, or both. He was 28 when he died a horrifying death, which was entirely of his own choosing.

The overwhelming feeling I got out of this story was one of profound sadness. Yes, Jean-Baptiste murdered. But he was not just any murderer who killed senselessly. No, he was much more...he was a mad genius, whose madness was tightly controlled, never revealed. He never fought back against those who mistreated, or took advantage of, him. Instead, those people were taken care of by life itself...each of them met with an end that was unexpected and ironic…it was as if life said “pay back time” on Jean-Baptiste's behalf.

The entire story is told in third-person narration, with minimal dialogues (all of two pages). It is not a fast read, and some parts are quite dry and wordy. However, the wit is simply brilliant. Horror and morbidity are tempered with irony. There are lots of detail on scents and perfume-making - either interesting or tedious, depending on one’s perception. Personally, I find this story wonderfully evocative, educational and interesting.

This is a wonderful, profound, tragic story…one that stays on my mind with much clarity even after one week.

5 out of 5. I love it. It's phenomenal - in a class by itself.

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