Perfume reads like a fairy tale, with the kind of lush imagery that actually compelled me to hire the DVD while I was halfway through it.
I’m actually stuck, not really sure what I want to say about this book.
I enjoyed it, reading most of it while curled up in a chair on the front porch, not noticing when the sun disappeared and the weather turned vicious. I suppose that’s the mark of a good book, but it may just be the fact that I bought it when I had one exam to go, and read it on my first study-free weekend for a long time.
In my head, this book brings up the kind of map found inside fantasy novels; a confined little world with terrain and villages and a plot that flows like the marked route. It is set in C18 France with familiar names and landmarks, but fantastical, alchemical kinds of airs, which are really to do with Jean-Baptiste, the protagonist. It reads like a modern recounting of an historical event from a time so long ago that magic is just part of the landscape.
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born in a fish market, the unwanted fourth child of a woman who is promptly hanged, while he is taken into care. The care given to him, despite its wanting, and the shock of his mother’s abandonment of him seemed kind of .. caring to me, and my notions of the brutality of the time. But, shrug. Grenouille has no scent of his own, nor social graces or real feelings toward humankind, but an uncanny sense of smell. The plot seems compartmentalised into sections of Grenouille’s life, wherein he obtains either explicitly or implicitly, the knowledge and tools to push him along into the next section. Halfway through the book, I knew it was going somewhere but didn’t know where, which kept me drawn in. At some point relatively late in the piece, the aim of Grenouille’s searching become clear. Or perhaps I am the dithering reader that was surprised at the last minute by the obvious twist, as dumb as the character with the bad guy behind him. No, to your left! Now he’s behind you! Now he’s under the table! It wouldn’t be the first time.
The fact of the murders, and Grenouille as a murderer, seem almost insignificant details, despite their obvious centrality. They are just more things that happen, as significant to Grenouille as eating, just mechanisms by which to fulfil his basic needs. The perfumer, Baldini, is a wonderful character, entirely selfish and self-pitying to the point of being ridiculous. I loved him. His delusions of grandeur, his fame and fortune based on a couple of inherited successes, these key factors seeming to have slipped his mind. It may be that he was such a great part of this book because he reminds me of my own favourite naked emperor, who sits near me at work.