Forgive my literary heathen ways, but I had never heard of Patrick Süskind until I read a recommendation for both this and The Pigeon on, of all places, the old Anaal Nathrakh forum boards in the book thread. Little did I know that there was a film version from 2006, that the book itself was written in 1985 and is pretty well-known, and that it has even inspired songs by artists as varied as Nirvana, Air and Rammstein.
Little did I know either that the copies of both of these books that I received for Christmas could have had hideously ugly foul covers (you can find them on Google images or whatever) but instead have sweet, awesome covers by Klaus Haapaniemi.
That’s enough about the exterior stuff anyway. The story follows the entire life of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an orphan born into the worst squalor and stench of human existence in Paris, but with no body scent of his own. He possesses an unsurpassed sense of smell, however, sensing the aroma of things far too minute, or subtle, or far away, or intermingled with other scents for most human beings to ever notice. Throughout the book he variously attempts to learn the art of perfumery, get as far away from the rest of humanity as possible, create an artificial body odour for himself, and eventually to create the perfect scent – one that requires an utterly sociopathic approach to humanity.
I immediately fell in love with this book, and I found it to be a real page-turner. I did wonder how much attention would be devoted to the olfactory realm and whether or not this would impede the level of visual description to which most of us are accustomed, but Süskind pulls the whole thing of magnificently making Grenouille’s supernatural senses seem entirely, terrifyingly plausible. His ultimately misanthropic views are also presented so factually; the horror of his personage described so well (such as when the other babies at the orphanage attempt to smother him); his immense narcissistic fantasies described so lucidly that you could well believe that Jean-Baptiste Grenouille really did exist as one of the most terrible individuals of history.