Perfume by Patrick Suskind

Very original: for the first and perhaps only time in a novel, the description of places, objects, people, is first rendered by smells.

Unclassifiable, this book has become… a classic!

The main character, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, has an exceptional sense of smell which makes him almost a superman (a superhero we would say today, if the action was not located in the 18th century). His fabulous sense of smell allows him to navigate in the dark, to “see” through walls and cupboards, he could almost be blind, as his other senses have become useless to him.

But this strange hero has of course several faults in the breastplate. His intelligence is put to the exclusive service of his need to monopolize and memorize new smells, and therefore he passes by his fellows for a perfect idiot, even endowed with this unique talent. Frog adapts perfectly to this situation (nothing interests it apart from odors).

Nothing can move him, everything is indifferent to him including beauty and human life, and he will therefore go so far as to become a serial killer to capture the scent of the young women he seeks to collect.

This novel is unclassifiable, because it is at the same time a historical novel, a fantasy novel, a thriller and a philosophical tale. The hero is a monster, but we end up accompanying him in his murderous madness and understanding his quest which corresponds to the construction of an ideal.

The author takes his idea very far by operating, without our knowledge, an inversion of the value systems, he leads us towards the acceptance of ignominy, the objectification of the victims – and therefore their dehumanization – and the unexpected transformation of his antihero into almost divine character, finally capable after a condemnation and a spectacular resurrection to take absolute power over his fellows and to choose for himself the time of his disappearance.

It goes without saying that certain scenes from the novel and its epilogue will bring a feeling of unease to some, because despite his uplifting olfactory journey, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is certainly not a character smelling of holiness!

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