‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ by Patrick Suskind tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who has no natural odour himself but possesses an unnaturally heightened sense of smell. Abandoned as a child in eighteenth-century Paris, he eventually becomes an apprentice at a parfumerie thanks to his talent for distinguishing between the subtlest collection of odours and creating the most exquisite perfumes. However, his quest for the perfect scent soon leads him down a murderous path.
‘Perfume’ is a bit like reading a fairy tale. A very dark, macabre, twisted fairy tale about a serial killer, but a fairy tale nonetheless in the controlled way it is written and the simple structure of the plot. As a main character, Grenouille was never going to be likeable but he is certainly intriguing and very well drawn. Suskind’s main strength lies in his descriptions which are tantalisingly good with the smells from the nauseating to the heavenly effectively wafting off the page – credit is also due to the translator here for the quality of the prose in the English version of this book.
On the other hand, I did find that after an excellent start, the plot did drag a bit from the middle onwards which was frustrating given that it is a relatively short book. Perhaps the endless descriptions of different scents were a bit overdone towards the end and hindered the progress of the plot. Overall, ‘Perfume’ is a strange and twisted read with an equally bizarre ending which I didn’t find particularly satisfying. It is certainly based on a unique plot and I would be interested in reading Suskind’s novella ‘The Pigeon’ in the future. Any other recommendations for modern European fiction would be gratefully received.