I’m a little late but when I saw last weeks Booking Through Thursday question my attention was instantly grabbed. I couldn’t resist getting involved in the question;
What’s the oddest book you’ve ever read? Did you like it? Hate it? Did it make you think?
Straight away Perfume; The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind came to my mind. A story about an abysmal young man with an extraordinary and almost animal like sense of smell who fuses his talents with revolting violence when he sets out to create a scent that is the epitome of purity by murdering 13 virgin girls. I told you it was odd.
The story begins in 18th century France when Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, born to poverty, enters into the world with a gruesome and vividly depicted birth. Instantly people seem to either take an aversion to Grenouille or completely fail to ignore him. One lady describes her revulsion to the baby who instead of smelling like a normal baby has no smell at all.
From birth Grenouille is an outcast, shunned or isolated from society he lives on the fringes of life developing into one of the strangest characters I have encountered in a work of fiction.
Greouille, with his own keen sense of smell comes to realize that he is in fact himself born without a sense. His own personal identity is hindered and he feels an even greater outcast from society, almost as though he does not fully exist.
When he goes to work with Master perfumer Baldini, a once successful and affluent business man, his flare for smells enable Grenouille to help renew Baldini’s flailing business.
Grenouille discovers that his strength of smell is such that he can seek out smells from miles away that others would not detect and he can pick out the most complex and hidden notes from any scent.
He creates his own perfume that once worn instantly makes people notice him. He discovers that whilst once people passed him as though he did not exist, now they suddenly notice him. In short Grenouille understand that he can hold a great and insurmountable power through his skilled manipulation of smells and scent.
But Grenouille also discovers that he does not like the new-found attention he has earned and wishes to once again disappear.
The novel follows Grenouille on his remote and strange life, becoming intimately acquainted with the thoughts and motivations of a serial killer. When he realizes his desire to create the perfect scent of a virgin and goes on a murder spree killing local virgins he creates panic amongst the local towns people who soon realize that the killer is targeting pure, innocent girls.
Grenouille eventually succeeds in creating his perfume which draws people to him and inspires immense feelings of love and reverence in the those around him. When they discover that he is responsible for the multitude of deaths he is sentenced to death. However on the day of his execution he wears the scent and subsequently people are so drawn to him that they profess love for him and are driven to have a mass orgy. I told you this book was a little different.
Grenouille, finally achieving a sense of identity realizes it’s fickleness and the reality that people only love a false sense of himself and he abandons the village where he is revered. Upon wearing the scent again in Paris his scent is so attractive that he is devoured and torn apart piece by piece by a group of people who are at once disgusted by their act but also left with a sense of blissful happiness.
But did I enjoy this book? Well despite this being one of the darkest and possibly most disturbing books that I’ve read to date, I actually loved it. I’ve read very mixed reviews of this book but I actually believe it is the perfect portrayal of how humanity can be driven by its most base human instincts and how universally even the most so-called civilised people can be reduced to mass hysteria when their own innate instincts are stirred.
It shows the depths of Grenouille’s isolation and the extremes that his keen sense of smell and desperation for identity will drive him.
The novel is off course extreme and Suskind’s means of telling his story is extravagant and unlike anything I’ve read before. But the story is daring, it is bold, Suskind is unafraid of creating repugnant characters and portraying a truly ugly side of human nature.
So this is by far the oddest book I have read but it greatly inspired me and left me wondering at just how far people can and will be inspired and motivated by their animal instincts.
So what is the oddest book you’ve read? And did you like or dislike it. I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you do decide to leave your own answer on your blog then remember to leave your link here and at Booking Through Thursday.