Perfume by Patrick Suskind

Read: 3 December, 2008

I was recommended this book by a German foreign-exchange student during my fourth year at University. We were taking a class together on First Nations Literature and I mentioned to her that I wanted to read more continental European books but that I had a hard time finding out which ones would be good. She suggested this one.

I must admit that my immediate curiosity led me to watch the movie before I had the chance to buy the book. The movie was amazing and confirmed the recommendation. In comparison with the book, the movie stands alone. That being said, it isn’t as good as the book overall. There was only one part where I felt that it surpassed the book – the scene where Grenouille murders the first girl. In the book version, he just kills her, smells her, and leaves. There’s no emotional whatsoever. In the movie version, on the other hand, he kills her, smells her, and then freaks out when her scent starts to dissipate. I found that to be a more likely reaction for a character like Grenouille, and I’m really not sure why he was so calm about the scent leaving the world forever in the book.

Actually, now that I think about it, I think I liked the part where he kills the final girl a bit better in the movie as well. Because it’s from Richis’s point of view, that scene is played out like a horror movie and really serves to build up the tension. In the book, on the other hand, it’s all from Grenouille’s point of view, so we just get his cold and methodical thinking. He even tells us over and over again that he can smell the rest of the household sleeping, so there’s no suspense.

But these are just small complaints. The book was amazing and absolutely disgusting. I loved the way the world was captured in smells. It was clearly difficult since our language is so visually based. But Suskind managed to avoid simply writing “the room smelled like there was a fire in the corner, and an old woman sitting in a rocking chair.” Rather, each of these individual smells would be broken down into their smelling components, like the type of wood being burned, or the old cheesy smell of the woman. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how disgusting the book was, but it was a great fun reading!

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