Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Review: Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer by Patrick Suskind

(Original review posted on Goodreads: Oct 7, 2012)

Perfume is a book in a league of its own. It’s unconventional, terrifying and creepy; yet at the same time, dazzling, mesmerizing and strangely hypnotic. Whether I hate it or love it is irrelevant (and honestly, I’m still not sure), because I know that this is a great book. I knew that five minutes after I started reading.

Perfume is a very bizarre tale about a very bizarre murderer, who kills not for sadistic pleasure or monetary gains, but simply in the pursuit of achieving his dream – creating the best perfume in the whole of France, which, quintessentially, is the scent of an adolescent beautiful virgin. But what sets this book apart, aside from the brilliant narration, is the fact that the story solely focuses on Grenouille – his life, his obsession, his single-minded devotion to his craft. No thoughts are spared for the victims or the actual killings; it’s only the scent-induced high that matters.

Grenouille is a character you are supposed to hate. The author never tries to bring about any semblance of humanity in him. In fact, he introduces Grenouille as ‘a gifted abomination’; ‘a tick waiting to bore and bite into animal flesh’. Yet, as much as I loathed him, there were times when I caught myself feeling sorry for him. And it unsettled me because for a long time, I couldn’t figure out why I would feel that way since the book projects Grenouille as nothing less than a monster. But there’s something about how fanatically devoted he is to his passion, how his whole life is centered around scent, that's eerily touching.

The narration is brilliant, as long as Grenouille stays in the picture. Once or twice, however, the author shifts focus to other people, like the perfumer who mentors Grenouille in Paris. And that is when I felt the narration slip a little, going off on tangents. The pace of the book also drops towards the middle.

However, the end more than made up for all that. The story truly came alive in the last 15 chapters and it gripped me with an infectious mix of thrill and paranoia that made it impossible to put the book down. And OMG, the end!! I never saw it coming. It was jaw-dropping, shocking, and very, very clever. In fact, if I had to rate just the concluding chapters, I would give them a 5-on-5.

The writing is exceptionally good. The words are brilliantly chosen, and put together in a way that gives them a dreamlike quality, especially when the author describes scents. And obviously, he does that a lot.

Perfume made my skin crawl and left me reeling. But it also left me spellbound at the sheer ingenuity of Patrick Suskind’s vision. Equal parts creepy and creative, Perfume might not be a book for everyone but it is a great piece of literature regardless.

4 out of 5 stars

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