Book review: Perfume

I’m getting to this one a little bit late, and I probably wouldn’t have read it all if someone at my writer’s group hadn’t talked about it. Well I’m glad he did because what a little gem this turned out to be.

Perfume has the strangest premise I’ve come across in years: it’s set in the 18th Century and tells the story of one Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. Borne and raised in poverty, he would’ve probably died an anonymous, crippled pauper, if not for a number of rather unusual traits: he has a sense of smell that goes beyond comic-book superhuman, a raw, untrained intelligence to match, and sociopathic streak that allows him to kill without the slightest twinge to his conscience. You’ve probably already gathered that you’re not going to like him very much, though when you read his reasoning behind it, you might just think there’s a perverse kind of purity in what he’s attempting to do, even while being quite appalled.But the character of Grenouille aside, this is a fantastic book. The main character sees the world through his miraculous sense of smell, and this book paints the world using little more than Grenouille’s nose. It’s poetry written in scent basically, and it’s a work of genius (even more impressive when you consider it was translated into English from the original German).  The prose is wild and unapologetically over the top, painting a picture of 18th century France with such depth you can almost smell it (and most of it doesn’t smell that great). I would say that the characters are not as well-developed as one might expect for a literary novel, and there are definitely some parts that might strike you as repetitive as you’re reading, but I think I was happy to forgive one or two shortcomings for what I think is a great celebration of the written word.

I’m very much a latecomer, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, so nine out of ten.

One thought on “Book review: Perfume”

  1. I read this book several years ago and, like you, I would have never come across it had it not been recommended to me by a friend. Not my usual reading but thoroughly enjoyable.

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