Perfume by Patrick Suskind

Kurt Kobain’s favourite book was Perfume. Set-in the stench of eighteenth-century Paris the book follows the life of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. His lack of odour makes him unique as does his exceptional sense of smell. This story conjures smells:

Perfume
Published: 1985

‘This scent had a freshness, but not the freshness of limes or pomegranates, not the freshness of myrrh or cinnamon bark or curly mint or birch or camphor or pine needles, not that of a May rain or a frosty wind or of well water… and at the same time it had warmth, but not as bergamot, cypress, or musk has, or jasmine or daffodils, not as rosewood has or iris… This scent was a blend of both, of evanescence and substance, not a blend, but a unity, although slight and frail as well, and yet solid and sustaining, like a piece of thin, shimmering silk… and yet again not like silk, but like pastry soaked in honey-sweet milk – and try as he would he couldn’t fit those two together: milk and silk! This scent was inconceivable, indescribable, could not be categorized in any way – it really ought not to exist at all. And yet there it was as plain and splendid as day.’

Although he loves scent, Grenouille hates people ‘There was only one thing the perfume could not do. It could not turn him into a person who could love and be loved like everyone else.’ Haunted by the smell of a particular girl, Grenouille kills her to steal her scent. ‘He wanted truly to possess the scent of this girl behind the wall; to peel it from her like skin and to make her scent his own.’ He craves scent like Dracula craves blood and is drawn to kill more and more to satiate his desire. Suskind’s careful historical detail coupled with a simple and perfectly executed idea makes this novel a classic.

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