Much to my surprise I finished this book in an incredibly quick space of time - the reason of this surprise is because the book has a whole lot of narration and very few dialogues - something that I usually cringe at when reading a book. But this time it was different. I didn't even notice the lack of dialogues and conversations and read long paragraph after long paragraph uninterruptedly.
I would describe Grenouille as an exotic monster. The fact that he is born an orphan and his whole childhood and teenage years are hard and cruel on him made me pity the character that I would later find out is nothing but a horrid man with an exceptional acute sense of smell. Throughout the whole book he seeks his "meaning in life" until he finally discovers what it is: create the most sought after scent of all - the scent of love. He reaches his goal but doesn't get what he always wanted: the desire to be loved himself.
Yes, this book is highly disturbing - but that's what makes it such a splendid read.
The message is ingenious and beautiful at the same time: What every single man and woman wants is to love and be loved back. And that's what Grenouille tries so hard to do throughout the whole story (using the most despicable and gruesome methods) - he tries to make others love him. But we can't make others love us if we don't love ourselves. That is the principle of attraction. People that are highly attractive and that have the ability to draw others to themselves are people that like their own company, know their high points and see their own potential. And yet Grenouille fails to see turning his whole arduous search and horrendous crime into nothing but deception until the end of his sad, sad life.
It's a magnificent read and a mind opening allegory! Read it!
WIKIPEDIA ON "PERFUME":
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is a 1985 literary historical cross-genre novel (originally published in German as Das Parfum) by German writer Patrick Süskind. The novel explores the sense of smell, and its relationship with the emotional meaning that scents may carry. Above all this is a story of identity, communication and the morality of the human spirit.
The story focuses on Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a perfume apprentice in 18th century France who, born with no body scent himself, begins to stalk and murder virgins in search of the "perfect scent", which he finds in a young woman named Laure whom his acute sense of smell finds in a secluded private garden in Grasse.
Grenouille (French for "frog") is an unwanted Parisian orphan who, having no personal scent (learned later in the narrative), is rejected by others because they are unwittingly disturbed by him, later understood to the reader as stemming from his lack of odour. He has an extraordinary power to discern odours, and comes to loathe the scent of other people. He becomes apprenticed to a tanner at the age of eight, and after work explores the city. One day he smells a divine scent and follows it, and is shocked to find that the source of this beautiful scent is a young virginal girl just passing puberty (14-15 years old). He gets closer to her, unnoticed, to get a better smell of her scent. When leaning in and becoming more intoxicated by the divinity of her scent she notices him and begins to scream, so he holds her mouth shut, accidentally suffocating her while continuing to be enamoured of her scent. But he learns that soon after death the scent dissipates and is lost. He vows to himself that this is his life's purpose, to regain that scent.
In his quest to isolate and preserve scents, he becomes apprenticed to a once great perfumier, Baldini, and proves himself a talented pupil. His supernatural power to discern and dissect scents helps create wondrous perfumes and makes Baldini the most popular perfumier in Paris. But Grenouille's abilities are unmatched by the technology and Baldini has to step in and stop him when Grenouille learns that he cannot isolate the scent of inorganic materials, such as glass and iron. At this enlightenment Grenouille falls ill with smallpox, presumably psychosomatically as a reaction to his body giving up on life as his quest can never be fulfilled. Yet Baldini has grown to cherish Grenouille for his skills and while on his deathbed Baldini reveals to him that there are techniques other than distillation that can be used to preserve such odors. At this news, Grenouille miraculously recovers and resolves to journey to the city of Grasse, the home of the greatest Perfumiers, to further his quest.
On his way to Grasse, Grenouille travels the countryside and reflects on his disgust with the scent of humanity. As he travels between cities and escapes the "sour cheese" stench of humanity, he dreams of escaping scent altogether, reveling in the idea that after having experienced the most divine scent imaginable (the plum slicing girl) that he could escape the influence of the world and find the deepest, darkest hole to literally crawl into and merely reflect on his memories of his most beloved scent experiences. He quickly turns off the beaten path and spends seven years in a cave on top of the Massif Central. It is more like a slanted well than a large cavern, and he crawls deep into it until the light has stopped and he cannot go another further. There he wedges himself against the stone and falls into a sort of meditation, spending all his waking hours imaging himself in a vast and grand library inside his mind, served by scentless spectres who bring him "vials" of his favorite scents. And every day before he falls asleep he is brought the scent memory vial of the plum slicing girl, and falls drunk with its splendor before sleeping. He leaves the cave only to eat enough insects and scraps to survive, addicted to lounging in the scent library of his mind. One day he wakes with a start from a nightmare of being suffocated by his own body odor and to shake off the confusion he, for the first time, examines his own scent. Going layer by layer from his surroundings and through his (now tattered) clothes and down to the grime and dirt he is covered in, he soon realizes with a shock that he has no personal scent at all. He takes on an existential fear, for the first time, that without a scent he has no place in existence, in the universe, that he is not truly a part of reality and that without a scent he is literally nothing. And so he once again resolves to capture the scent of the plum slicing girl, but has no put it to himself to create the world's most divine scent to have for himself, to show the universe that he exists and that his talents do not resolve him to be nothing.
Grenouille journeys to Montpellier where an amateur scientist, the Marquis de La Taillade-Espinasse, uses Grenouille to test his thesis of the "so-called fluidum letale". The Marquis combines a treatment of decontamination and revitalization for Grenouille, and subsequently, Grenouille looks like a clean gentleman for the first time in his life. Grenouille in turn tricks his way into the laboratory of a famous perfumier. There he creates a body odour for himself from ingredients including "cat shit," "cheese," and "vinegar", whereupon he is finally noticed by society. Previously not even an eyelash would bat if Grenouille had walked right in front of someone's face, but his new "disguise" can make heads turn and he feels accepted by society, but it is only a test of his abilities and he has grander plans yet.
Finally moving to Grasse, Grenouille once again becomes intoxicated by the scent of a young girl transitioning through puberty to womanhood, Laure. He believes her scent to be on par, if not greater, than that of the plum slicing girl, but also believes that she is not quite mature and plans to allow for two years more years until he can capture her scent at its peak. Meanwhile he embarks on filling out the rest of the notes in his ultimate perfume. As it has been told that there are 12 notes, 4 chords, in a perfume and that the ancient Egyptians believed in a 13th divine note, which Grenouille believes he can harness using the matured scent of Laure. To capture the scents of 12 other post-pubescent virgins Grenouille realizes that the only viable method involves murder. And as he is generally unnoticed, when out of his "disguise", he begins a soulless career of serial murder of the 12 virgin, young women around Grasse with the most beautiful scents.
Eventually, after the 2 years of murders have passed, Laure's father pieces together the pattern of murders and realises that Laure, the most beautiful and beloved young woman in the city just passing puberty, is most likely to be the next victim. He flees with Laure to hide and protect her, but Grenouille pursues them and kills Laure, capturing her scent.
Grenouille is apprehended soon after completing his perfume and sentenced to death. On the day of his execution the intoxicating scent of Laure combined with the backdrop essences of the 12 virgins he murdered, overwhelms all present, and instead of an execution the whole town is overwhelmed by a mix of divine reverence and carnal passion, erupting into a massive orgy.
Grenouille is pardoned for his crimes, blessed and revered, and Laure's father even wants to adopt him. But the experience of the power, looking at the peoples' reaction, has dissatisfied Grenouille, because he is not loved for himself, but for the perfume which he created. He realises that he had always found gratification "in hatred, in hating and being hated", not love. As his existence has not been validated by his creation, but merely disguised once again. He decides to return to Paris upon finding that the satisfaction that he initially felt has transformed itself into hatred and disgust.
In Paris, Grenouille approaches a group of low-life people (thieves, murderers, whores, etc.), who do not notice him approaching. He deliberately douses himself with the rest of the vial of his divine perfume while standing among the group. Overcome with the carnal passion and divine reverence, even moreso than the people of Grasse, they literally tear him to pieces and devour the remains. After the passion wore off, the people look around and feel slightly disgusted having just eaten a human being, but they have an overwhelming internal sense of happiness. They are "uncommonly proud. For the first time they had done something out of Love."
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