Thursday, 19 June 2014

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

A dreaded three-star review. They're the hardest books to review, the ones that didn't inspire me to glowing praise or angry ranting. I find it so hard to quantify, sometimes, why a book falls into the "meh" category. Something about it didn't grab me, but the author never made me angry, either.

So, Perfume. Three stars. Story of a serial killer, sort of. In France. In the 18th century. A boy is born with no scent, but the best nose in the world. Somehow, this makes him utterly disconnected from humanity. Or maybe he's just a born psychopath. Who knows? He rises to become a journeyman perfumier, but becomes obsessed with the scent of beautiful young virgins, and wants to bottle it. Hence, the killing.

Here's a question though - do beautiful people have a naturally better smell than non-beautiful people? The book certainly makes that equivalency, without comment. Every girl he kills is of a certain beautiful, buxom, just blossoming-into-womanhood type. I suppose, as a literary gimmick, the young virgin part might make sense (maybe), but why are they all beautiful? The author goes out of his way to tell us that Grenouille doesn't notice anything he sees, just what he smells. But somehow, everyone who smells beautiful, is beautiful. But why does A = B?

I found that jarring - wouldn't the threat of a serial killer be more profound if he didn't have a type, as visual senses would define it?

And I'm not that fond of serial killer-related writing. Only my quest to finish that bloody BBC Big Read list made me pick this one up. Perfume didn't give me the creeps, luckily, and I slept last night.

The world Suskind creates is interesting, the prose interesting, but in the end, it all seemed a little thin. What really does make him different from everyone else? Or even from other serial killers? Yes, he's fixated on smell. So?

Read as part of the BBC Big Read

No comments:

Post a Comment