Patrick Süskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is one of those books that I love, but have a difficult time putting into words WHY EXACTLY I love it.
This book tackles very serious (and disturbing) subject matter, but manages to not take itself too seriously at the same time. Don’t take that for me saying this book could ever be considered lighthearted, though. And really, every time I read it (and, oh man – I’ve read this one so very many times) I still find myself with a swiftly beating heart and sometimes short of breath…I may even shed a tear or two (okay, I totally do – don’t judge).
I laugh at things like this:
FATHER TERRIER was an educated man. He had not merely studied theology, but had read the philosophers as well, and had dabbled with botany and alchemy on the side. He had a rather high opinion of his own critical faculties. To be sure, he would never go so far as some-who questioned the miracles, the oracles, the very truth of Holy Scripture-even though the biblical texts could not, strictly speaking, be explained by reason alone, indeed often directly contradicted it. He preferred not to meddle with such problems, they were too discomfiting for him and would only land him in the most agonizing insecurity and disquiet, whereas to make use of one’s reason one truly needed both security and quiet.
By spreading the semen of bulls over various grasses, he attempted to produce a milk-yielding animal-vegetable hybrid, a sort of udder flower. After initial successes that enabled him to produce a cheese from his milk grass-described by the Academy of Sciences of Lyon as “tasting of goat, though slightly bitter”— he had to abandon his experiments because of the enormous cost of spewing bull semen by the hundreds of quarts across his fields.
But then…but then we really get to know our main character (he’s not a protagonist, and is really a fairly despicable human), Grenouille, and even though amusing little asides are happening all around us, we can’t allow ourselves to enjoy them, or even notice them. They’re there, but the true horror of what we’re seeing/reading/experiencing just…takes no quarter.
Grenouille is a character that you WANT to feel sympathy for, from the very first pages. He’s an orphan whose mother was beheaded for attempting to kill her newborn son (and he wasn’t the first she would have thrown out with the fish heads). He’s abandoned by wet nurses and the church, and later is sold into a form of bondage – it’s the kind of backstory that leaves you WANTING to feel some sort of compassion for a character, but you just can’t. You can’t.
Or, I can’t.
Which is one of the reasons I have such a difficult time qualifying my complete adoration for this book. With a main character that I CAN. NOT. STAND. I somehow still manage to continue to come back to this book. I guess that’s why I find it so successful? Somehow, even though I know going in that I’m going to cringe and (figuratively) cover my eyes with my fingers each time I read…I keep reading. And reading. And reading again.
This book is powerful. And beautiful. And creepy. And amazing.