Translated from the German by John E. Woods
Fiction/Literary, 1985 (Germany), 1986 (English translation)
Penguin UK, trade pb, 260 p.
Winner of the World Fantasy Award, 1987
Survivor, genius, perfumer, killer: this is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. He is abandoned on the filthy streets as a child, but grows up to discover he has an extraordinary gift: a sense of smell more powerful than any other human’s. Soon, he is creating the most sublime fragrances in Paris. Yet there is one odour he cannot capture. It is exquisite, magical: the scent of a young virgin. And to get it he must kill. And kill. And kill...I can’t quite put my finger on it but something kept me from really loving this story. I liked it, don’t get me wrong, but I think I expected something more. Too high expectations perhaps? The translation? Actually I loved the beginning, when the story took place in Paris, but once Grenouille left Paris, I lost a bit of momentum in reading and never really got it back.
Grenouille was an interesting character though. He’s despicable and selfish and egotistical but there were the odd moments I almost felt sympathy toward him. I’m not sure I ever really got to know him or any of the other characters although maybe that's the point since for him everything and everyone is defined purely by scent of the lack thereof.
Every human being smelled differently, no one knew that better than Grenouille, who recognized thousands upon thousands of individual odours and could sniff out the difference of each human being from birth on. And yet – there was a basic perfumatory theme to the odour of humanity, a rather simple one, incidentally: a sweaty-oily, sour-cheesy, quite richly repulsive basic theme that clung to all humans equally and above which each individual’s aura hovered only as a small cloud of more refined particularity. (p. 154)Some of the descriptions about perfumery were quite fascinating. I’d never given much thought to the process of extracting the basic scents before so that part of the story was interesting. Overall, it’s a great concept that just didn’t completely grab me. I’m looking forward to finally watching the movie though and seeing how it compares to the book.
Read an extract here.
My Rating: 3.5/5
(#42 for 2008, Orbis Terrarum Challenge, R.I.P. III Challenge, Herding Cats Challenge, 1% Well-Read Challenge, Book Awards II Challenge)
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