Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Classic Book Review: Perfume

His PIN number is made up of heiroglyphics and he once bred an Oompa Loompa in year 9 science. Here's Marky's C's review of a classic novel:

On page 4 of Perfume, Paris is described as possessing the foulest of stenches – a vulgar olfactory concoction of ‘manure, urine, rat droppings, mouldering wood, spoiled cabbage, stale dust and chamber pots’, to be precise. Yet, the most surprising aspect of this rather unappealing depiction of pre-Robespierrian France is that it was not even written by an Englishman. Apparently, and for this we may rejoice, France is the fecal point of Europe for writers of all languages, and the French fare little better (indeed, how else could they be presented but as traditional, self-centred, smelly, cannibalistic, surrendering pigs?). In Patrick Suskind’s 1985 classic, France emerges as the most putrid, vile and uninhabitable sewer of the entire northern hemisphere (yes, even ahead of Wales). To make matters worse, Suskind even frees a scent-obsessed virgin murderer into its pure countryside. The result is an intense delight of fragrant bliss.

Although it is a ‘story of a murderer’, the procession of murders does not actually occur until the book nears its conclusion. Instead, the majority of the novel is dedicated to a biography of the troglodyte protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, through his peculiar and torturous childhood, his time in the great perfumery of Giuseppe Baldini and his lustful cupidity for all things fragrant. Though the detail is rich and the world truly alive, Suskind allows for a degree of creative license, particularly in the death of Baldini and the woefully pathetic manhunt for Grenouille that somehow misses the giant, dumb and slow killer. Regardless, the character of Jean-Baptiste dominates the reader’s interest, and all other elements of the novel decay into seemingly unimportant fragments. Yet the series of murders feel rushed after the elongated introduction and, at times, Grenouille is the most frustrating of antiheroes – fluctuating between intricate modes of thinking and outright brutish stupidity. Nevertheless, any book that concludes with a rural mass orgy followed by self-sacrifice to savage cannibalism deserves a read, and the fact that the whole story (including its deep descriptions of the contemptible and vile France in which it is set), is no less than perfect, warrants it a place on anybody’s bookshelf. The phrasing is exceptional, utilizing original wordplay on the most forgotten of our senses, and the translation allows it to run smoothly and effectively into English. If you’ve never smelt an 18th century Frenchman, read Perfume.

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