Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Constantin Film, 2006)
When someone tells you to pick a favorite book, and you’re the type of person who reads with a gnawing ache for a good story, selecting just one can prove daunting. Not so for yours truly.
One day my mom, out of the profound goodness of her heart, surprised me with a spontaneous visit to Half Price Books. There she gave me the gift of Perfume: the Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind. I fell in love with it the way you fall for the love of your life; a part of me that had hitherto hidden from my reach sewed itself into the fabric of my heart.
I wasn’t accustomed to reading books in which the implied Devil’s spawn lures you through the pages. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the anchor of the novel, has the misfortune of assuming this role due to his absence of a human scent. He thus embarks on a treacherously erotic quest for the perfect odor that can disguise him as an ordinary person.
Ben Whishaw as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille
Along the way, master perfumers lend him knowledge from their fragrant vats of expertise. As a reader, it’s sinfully pleasurable to indulge in Grenouille’s rapturous exploration of scent. I became besotted with the ritual of gathering multitudes of gaping roses, dumping them into a steaming vat of water and allowing their mixture to serve as the base for the perfume. So, too, does Grenouille, and when his mastery of the art defies the power of a tangible firmament, the sensation of a sinful pleasure rattles through your bones.
People tend to think of Grenouille as a lesser human due to his hunched back and perceived submission to authority. It’s chillingly validating for the reader to watch him conquer the beasts surrounding him, those who think nothing of his diligence, unaware that he has towered over their petty dreams of glory.
Having the privilege of sinking your teeth into the dark recesses of someone devoid of love and adoration humbles you. I wish more books gave readers the opportunity to give you boundless empathy for the perceived scum of the earth (barring Hitler, I suppose, though even he reportedly painted landscapes and loved dogs).
Not that I have a beef with goodhearted protagonists. All readers know they’re far from perfect as well. It’s difficult to top the sensation of reading about someone who seeks love desperately enough to destroy any sliver of humanity he harbors within himself, though. I’ll gladly go on this ride over and over. And I encourage you to do the same.
Zeta Moore’s last review for us was The Hidden People by Allison Littlewood. She is exploring work in care for individuals on the autism spectrum, and nerding out when she can.