[diary] 3 – germany

Guten tag everyone !

The third novel of this challenge has been recommended to me as an answer to my tender for books’ titles, and it really was a nice coincidence : that book, I already had it on my bookshelf – I bought it at a book fair and never got the opportunity to read it. That book ? Perfume, by Patrick Süskind.


This book tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an orphan boy born with an exceptional sense of smell, who becomes a Machiavellian murderer. And for once, I don’t really know what to think about this novel. It is a pernicious tale, with a clearly glaucous main character, whom is always reminded to us by the author as indecent and monstrous. He kills several times, and once not far from the beginning of the book (so it is not exactly spoiling to say that !). He slays people, without wickedness, simply for his personal profit. And yet… absorbed, through the apprenticeship of Grenouille, in the fascinating world of 19th century’s perfumers, I almost forgot about the blackness of this tormented man.

Indeed, this book offers us a particularly rich olfactory environment : thanks to the multiple details of the descriptions, we can almost, simply by reading, smell the scents that Grenouille senses with his virtuoso nose. From the stink of Paris’ streets to the perfection of that Perfume he dreams of, passing by the inner olfactory landscapes he creates and the smells of men, ordinary but unique…

These men from whom Grenouille is so distant, whom he hates but whose worship he is looking for, are presented as cruel, stupid, bumptious… No human being can ever please this unsettling character. Everywhere Grenouille goes, death follows closely, and as the story progresses, we stop counting the people who unfortunately met him and died. This man, strange to the human world, tough like “a tick”, invisible, insignificant, and though so dangerous, gives a disturbing impression. Somewhat as if a stranger was looking over our shoulder while reading, a stranger that we barely notice but that sends shivers down our spine.

And at the same time, we accompany the thoughts of that upsetting character that we can’t classify. The author, impassive taleteller, is plunging us into the meanders of the insane, wry, sometimes anxious mind… until we can understand his reasoning. We follow Grenouille from his birth until his death, from an internal point of view and from an external one too, and we thus get a comprehensive overview of his life. That maybe is the most troublesome thing : we come to be familiar with the way of being, the actions and the motivations of a man who, when we eventually leave the book and consider him in his entirety, is basically a assassin. But an assassin whose heart we have been intimately close during all these pages.

Perfume is a classic of contemporary literature, which we can’t let go until its end, and whose story is (almost) believable, at least for a moment. The realism of this story and its depth, exploring uncompromisingly the mecanisms of human soul, make it a particularly striking reading, that I recommend to gritty and curious people !

> The next review will be about Like Every Evening, by Zoyâ Pirzâd.

> SÜSKIND, Patrick – Le Parfum,  Livre de Poche, Fayard – translated from German by Bernard Lortholary.
> written listening to Das Deutschlandlied” .

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