REVIEW: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Author: Patrick Süskind
Genre: Thriller, Horror, Historical
My Rating: ★★★★★ (4.5/5 stars)
Among the muck and moral filth of 18th century France, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born with an abnormally strong sense of smell. He doesn’t have a scent of his own, but he is destined to be an olfactory genius. Grenouille bathes himself in the knowledge of the world’s aromas, but he grows dissatisfied and embarks on a new endeavor: to find the perfect scent. This undertaking, however, takes him down the wrong path, and he becomes one of the most prolific serial killers of all time.
After turning the last page of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, I’ve come to the conclusion that Patrick Suskind himself is a magnificent perfumer, except that he has words instead of scents. Like Grenouille, he didn’t draw phrases from a florid lexicon in order to produce his best product; he just strung all the hideous truths he could find in his chosen setting and set them forth sans verbal sugarcoating. The piece, as a result, is all naked exquisiteness.
If gritty fairytales are your cup of tea and if you are not a happy-ever-after junkie, I think this novel is a perfect treat. Perfume is a dark fable with historical foundation. The fact that it’s hard not to be awed by how Grenouille crafts his masterpieces even if he is practically a monster is enough to send chills down your spine. It’s one of those books that purposely place you in the limbo of indecisiveness about wanting to root for the “protagonist” or not.
Grenouille as a character is a hard nut to crack. Suskind grants readers all access to this psychopath’s mind, heart, and every aspect of his personality, but for some reason I still couldn’t consider him three-dimensional. I guess this is because Grenouille lacks the “realness” of being a human for he goes around like all the senses he needs are condensed in his nose. He sniffs and it’s as if he sees with it. He sniffs and he’s like he’s eaten with it. He sniffs and he feels with it…heck, he sniffs and orgasms with it. I know this is deliberate, but it kind of snitched a large chunk of his dimensionality. Be that as it may, he still emerges as a formidable entity that begs to be stamped indelibly in the readers’ minds. He wouldn’t have a problem with that.
I love how even if this is a seductively horrifying serial killer tale, it wraps up in a gloomy realization of one’s true identity not found, even tackling why it is important to be loved for who you really are in other to receive genuine happiness. The end is of course gruesome, but there’s a hint of sadness that lingers with it.
4.5 stars for a seductively chilling read.