A child born in the streets of 18th century France, immediately discarded by its mother, sounds a first cry that both condemns his mother to death and alerts the world to the arrival of its newest villain. Born without a personal smell, but with an unparalleled ability to smell the world around him, Jean Baptiste Grenouille lives primarily in the olfactory world, never transcending his sensory prison to live in the ordinary. Concepts like morality and forgiveness are merely a jumble of letters to the sociopathic genius, yet identifying the hundreds of components of a single smell comes as easily as Mozart determining the notes in a chord. Driven by the desire to forever preserve the one scent that brought him happiness, Grenouille becomes the greatest perfumer the world has ever known, and an expert at procuring scent from the most macabre of sources.
Artfully painted in every way, Perfume is an unusually sympathetic view of the creation of a monster. Suskind presents Grenouille’s gifts in such a way that the reader begins to understand the secret language of smell, and indeed to (at least temporarily) live in a world where scent is the greatest communicator. Because of this intimate understanding of Grenouille’s base existence, his actions are never shocking, but feel instead like part of a natural progression, an expected next step. Being privy to the dark thoughts of Grenouille eliminates the mystery of the murders that occur, and readers expecting shadowy clues and sudden plot twists will be sorely disappointed. What they will find, however, is an almost unbearable sense of growing dread, as Grenouille’s master plan is played out in the most deliciously deliberate and achingly leisurely way.
His gift for pacing and exploring the often overlooked and hard to tackle olfactory world make Suskind one of the most noted and translated modern German authors. Now a major motion picture by the director of Run Lola Run, the manuscript was originally considered by Kubrick, but ultimately discarded due to its intensely introspective narrative, which, in addition to the visual presentation of scent, made it particularly hard to translate to film. The novel also led to the creation of a super-luxe, limited edition 15 perfume set by esteemed perfumer Thierry Mugler, which contains scents inspired by specific scenes in the book, ranging from Grenouille’s ultimate creation, Aura, to the “grotesquely fetid” Human Existence. To learn more about Thierry Mugler’s creation, you can visit http://www.leparfum.thierrymugler.com/us/.
Jenny Watkins, Books Correspondent:
Jenny’s column is published the 2nd and 17th of every month. A hodgepodge of miscellany musings from children's book reviews to an evaluation of southern literature's place in the modern world of words, Good on Paper covers (almost) everything in print.
After honing an impressively rabid obsession with the printed word at the same insitution that churned out such greats as Annie Dillard and Lee Smith, Jenny Watkins packed up her worn paperbacks and headed West for the sparkling crime den of Los Angeles. When she's not pushing her favorite volumes off onto friends or indulging her embarassing love affair with trash T.V., she's searching for the perfect job and the perfect dive bar. You can find all of Jenny's Good on Paper articles at www.gather.com/goodonpaper.
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