by Patrick Suskind
read for bookclub
My final Readers Imbibing Peril review for the month (though I am a couple days late, oopsie). This is an original and horrifying book, to say the least. Jean-Baptise Grenouille was born without personal odor, but with the finest nose in Paris. He can sniff anything out, even the individual scents and quantities in fine perfume, so well that he can easily replicate it with the right ingredients. He is born when people don’t wash often, or change their clothes, they throw refuse and offal and waste into the street and the river, there are too many people living in close quarters and it simply stinks. But Suskind uses so many different words for scent and describes the smells of so many different things, or types of things you never really think about as having a scent that it is a little overwhelming. One strong, tall strapping guy stands in front of Grenouille and smells spermy. Gross!
When Grenoille is born his little nose starts working and quivering and gulping the scent around him. It is quite a nasty description actually. He is a yucky guy, even as an innocent babe. This book tells of his birth to his greatest achievement. He is a monster with no remorse, as Suskind describes him often, a tick or an animal. But honestly animals have more emotion than this guy. The craziest part is – I was rooting for him at least on a few occasions. Because the narrative doesn’t wax sentimental about his victims and because he has no emotion, it is easy to overlook his horrible side – at times.
Though I imagine he is the nastiest looking fellow ever. He has a bit of a hunchback, is pockmarked, has very little emotion, he scares people and they don’t understand why. When he finally realizes he has no scent, because he is disgusted by how other humans smell and then checks himself, he kind of freaks out. So he makes a perfume for himself to blend in (which has a base of cat poop and cheese!?)…and once that works, he wants to create one to get people to worship at his feet. “He would be able to create a scent that was not merely human, but superhuman, an angel’s scent, so indescribably good and vital that whoever smelled it would be enchanted and with his whole heart would have to love him…” (pg 160) “He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men…he said to himself that he wanted to do it because he was evil, thoroughly evil.” (pg 161) But right after that he decides he is better than God, because the church had cheap incense, so you know he is a tad bit full of himself. But his scent will take new and different ingredients that only he can find and distill, from other humans… dun dun dun!
So on his murderous rampage of distilling these scents you read the reactions of the townspeople, you don’t follow Grenouille. By removing us from the actual events it is harder to condemn him and be horrified. You know it is him, but in a way I wasn’t sure if I wanted him caught or not. The end, well, you have to read it to “believe” it. Wow, that was messed up!
This is the craziest story ever, really making you think about the smells around you. The descriptions are amazing and story goes quite quickly. It is messed up and gross but fascinating and quite entertaining. Our bookclub had a wonderful discussion, we really had a lot to bring up and say about this literary Mozart of scent. I really enjoyed it even though it was quite disturbing up, 4 stars.