Published: 1987 by Penguin | Pages: 263 | RAD Book Club Book #2
In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, and if his name has been forgotten today, it is certainly not because Grenouille fell short of those more famous blackguards when it came to arrogance, misanthropy, immorality, or, more succinctly, wickedness, but because his gifts and his sole ambition were restricted to a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of scent…
So this isn’t particularly the sort of book I would immediately choose in a bookstore or from the shelves at home. However, this is the joy of becoming part of a book group. As I’ve discussed in a previous post, I’ve set up a little group in work for staff and students. I keep everyone up to date with regular posts on our library webpages!
Overall thoughts seemed to be that ‘I’m glad I persevered and read it, and maybe, one day in the future I would read it again, but not yet.’ So, mixed reactions then! Personally, I really enjoyed the detail Suskind used to describe the various processes of perfumery.
I like how he chose to focus on the importance of these processes and how Grenouille obtained his desired scents, rather than focusing on, what could have been, very gruesome murders of young girls. In some respects, this ultimately created distance between the reader and Grenouille’s actions as you were forced to understand processes rather than raw emotions. Focusing on emotion, Book Club felt that at no point in the book is Grenouille shown any love or affection, the reader is constantly reminded of his different-ness. We thought that this could affect how he felt when people showed him affection (the massive orgy scene for example). Because he doesn’t understand what love is or how to deal with it, he doesn’t really feel it.
Another point picked up on was the issue of the subtitle ‘The Story of a Murderer’. I felt that as I was reading the book, I wasn’t actually being shown the story of a murderer, rather the story of perfumer. Again this created distance between Grenouille and the reader, which I think in turn ultimately made his murderous acts seem less ‘evil’ as Suskind seemingly glossed over them compared to the act of creating his scents. I thought that this technique could be likened to that of a socio/psychopath – this idea is also backed up by Grenouille’s act of practising getting scent from a puppy. (I really didn’t enjoy that bit!).
I can understand why this is a classical because as a piece of stand-alone literature it is brilliant. Throw in some literary criticism from Freud and I think it would be fascinating. But as a ‘casual read’, I think it was a little disturbing, and not something I read just before bed. I suppose you could argue that the subtitle was necessary as if you felt cold and disturbed while reading it, well he clearly was murderous and evil!
To see my review for RAD Book Club, click here!
Overall I would give it 5 stars due to the scope of interesting points that could be noted through literary criticism, but 2.5 stars as a ‘bedtime read’!