Thursday, 20 August 2015

Review: Perfume

"...Talent means nothing, while experience, acquired in humility and with hard work, means everything."

Title: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Author: Patrick Süskind
Translator: John E. Woods 
Year: 1985

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille never was anyone’s favourite person. Growing up in an orphanage where he was always seen as the odd one out, he never really learned how to love and be loved. But Grenouille is gifted. He can identify every single odour, and he finds a perfumer so he can be his apprentice.

Now, the subtitle of the novel does not hide the fact that this is not a happy story. Grenouille becomes obsessed with distilling every single smell, and when he smells the scent of a beautiful virgin, he decides what the odour of his perfect perfume is going to be.

Confession time: I saw the movie well before I read the book. I saw it twice. Loved the weirdness of it. Unfortunately, it ruined the novel for me. First off, because I knew what was going to happen as the film is quite true to its source. Secondly, because it had left me with high expectations: to be weirded out, yet love it. And I was disappointed.

The story itself is sublime: so clever, so original, and so mesmerizing. But I didn’t enjoy the writing at all. I understand there have to be many descriptions in order to understand what Grenouille is feeling, and more importantly smelling, but to me, it was too much and it felt it slowed down the novel. Also, the novel focusses very little on the moral choices Grenouille has to make and doesn’t seem to judge this culprit. Now I sort of understand that, as it is written from his point of view, but it angered me to some extent. This was probably influenced by the film as well, because there we do get to see several points of view.

Now, I don’t want to spoil the novel but I do want to add that I didn’t like the ending. In its own way, the entire novel is at least slightly realistic, and I felt the ending lacked this.  

If I hadn’t seen the film, the reading experience of Perfume would have probably been a lot different. So if you’re still interested in reading it (and I must say, I would still be – the premise is beyond intriguing), please take my advice and don’t watch the film beforehand.

The main theme is love. Everything Grenouille does is instigated by his desire to be loved. Perhaps that is the creepiest part of the novel: sometimes we may feel for Grenouille, because, who doesn’t want to be loved?

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