tl;dr |✭✭✭✭✩| This story was most definitely CREEPY! Great read for October, was a great period piece and such a unique and interesting story. I really enjoyed reading it.
Description: In eighteenth-century France, a young woman working in a market give birth to an infant – Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. The infant is small and sickly, and she was going to leave him to die amidst the rotting fish heads, until Grenouille opens his mouth and lets out a screech. Men find the baby and realize what the woman was planning, so they take the baby to an orphanage. Grenouille has a special gift, that of an absolute sense of smell. Growing up Grenouille is a quiet boy. He doesn’t learn the same as other children, nor does he act like them. But he can smell things no other human can, and he loves to explore and learn more and more scents. It is through his sense of smell that he is able to learn to speak, though the concept of god and religion and other abstract concepts he cannot understand. As a young man, Grenouille apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who, after much skepticism, teaches Grenouille the proper method of mixing perfumes. But Grenouille doesn’t just want to mix perfumes – he wants to capture every scent he has come across. One day, he catches the scent of a perfect human – a thing he had never experienced before. She was a young and beautiful virgin, and Grenouille becomes obsessed with replicating her scent. He will stop at nothing to capture her scent in a bottle.
This was a very different read. I’ve never read a book before which focuses solely on the sense of smell, and I felt Süskind did a fantastic job of relaying the world through Grenouille’s nose. Grenouille is a small, sad character. Everyone around him feels as though there is something off about him, and as such they avoid contact with him as much as possible.
But it’s not until his adult years that he finally comes to learn why. As Grenouille’s inability to understand what is right or wrong, and other abstract ideas prevalent to the time make him a very intriguing character to follow for the story (aside from his superhuman smelling abilities).
I felt this book did a good time portraying life in the 1700s in France – how dirty and overcrowded the streets were. The horrid smells that permeate in a large city like Paris that comes from a lack of hygiene, poor health, and no modern plumbing yet discovered. I had never thought about the way a person smells, or how to describe it, until this book. While reading it and the way scent is described, I realized how dead on and accurate it was for scents I never would’ve known how to describe.
This book does have a feel of being written in Victorian times as well, though it was originally published in 1987. That being said, it did take a little bit of time for me to get into the flow of the writing. Once I did, though, it was a very enjoyable read with a very unique story.