Perfume by Patrick Süskind Review

Perfume by Patrick Süskind Review

Why a Perfume by Patrick Süskind review on a music blog? Well, the book was published in 1985, for starters, and this is an 80s and 90s music blog. It’s all part of the popular culture of those times. But INXS fans like me will know the real reason. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer was a book Michael Hutchence was extremely taken with – almost to the point of obsession.

In Mystify, Tina Hutchence tells of how Michael woke her once during the night when staying at his villa to show her a location in France that was used in the novel. The terrible irony is that this incredibly sensual human being later lost his own sense of smell forever. How that must have hurt him. He even gave a copy to Kylie Minogue when they were a couple.

For Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is all about someone with an extremely keenly developed sense of smell, who can sense odours even when he’s miles from their source. In the book, the sense of smell and human emotions are inextricably linked. It’s a concept I as a reader can certainly identify with, as just one whiff of a particular scent can bring to mind a very specific place, person or moment in time.

If you’ve ever wanted to wear a sweater purely because it smells of your lover or have ever caught the scent of your mother’s perfume in a crowd then that’s what it’s all about. Or maybe one day you’ll be cooking a certain food that will take you right back to your childhood. Whatever your memory and however strongly it springs to mind, you can see that there’s an undeniable connection between the sense of smell and the human psyche.

For me personally – and others like me – there’s another twist when reading this novel. For I have lexical gustatory synesthesia, a condition that causes those with it to experience words and names as flavours and/or smells. So for fellow synesthetes with the lexical gustatory variant, language is forever connected with the senses of smell and taste.

Anyway – the novel. Perfume is set in France, initially Paris during the 18th century. The city reeks, and the main character Jean-Bastiste Grenouille has an extremely over-developed sense of smell. Soon after birth he becomes an orphan, and anyone who comes into contact him is repelled by the fact that he has no personal smell at all, even as an infant.

Perfume follows Grenouille’s journey through life and through France, including a significant spell spent in Grasse. Even today this French Riviera town is home to the Musée International de la Parfumerie, and has a long and distinguished association with perfumery.

I can’t say a lot more without spoiling the story for those who haven’t yet read it. Suffice to say it really is an incredible book, and a must for any fan of literature. Or the dearly departed Mr Michael Hutchence. A very cleverly orchestrated story from German writer Patrick Süskind, who at the time of writing is mercifully still with us.

Marcy x

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