RAD Book Club Review: Perfume

01 Oct 2015

For our second meeting, the Book Club met by atmospheric candlelight to discuss Perfume by Patrick Süskind.

We started by discussing our initial reactions to the book. Overall there were mixed reactions to the story and to the main character, Grenouille. Some people had found the book hard-going and others had been very entertained by it.

We all agreed that there were definitely aspects of black humour throughout the novel, especially in the figure of the Marquis. Several members of the group commented on the ridiculous nature of the Marquis’ scientific experiments, and the irony of his eventual death on the side of a mountain. We also suggested that by setting the novel in the Enlightenment and describing the eccentric scientific experiments that people carried out, Süskind encourages our suspension of disbelief.

Words used to describe the writing-style were ‘dreamlike’, ‘fairy-tale’, ‘immersive’ and we felt that this and the elements of magical realism had lulled us into continuing reading about unpleasant characters (and smells!) and accepting the bizarre, whilst also creating distance between the reader and Grenouille, who is described in terms that make him seem inhuman.

We moved on to address the title and the reason for ‘The Story of A Murderer’ subtitle. Everyone agreed that the murders did not seem to be the point of the book despite the title pointing to them being so. We agreed that this seems to mirror how, for Grenouille, it is not about getting pleasure out of killing young girls, it is just an action he must go through in order to fulfil his need for scent, whereas for the townspeople he is murdering innocent girls. Again, this created distance between the reader and Grenouille and his actions.

A contentious point which was raised was the idea of Grenouille as a Christ-like figure; he spends seven-year’s in solitude in a cave in the wilderness, where he dreams of ‘seeding’ the world with scent, and emerges ‘transformed’ by a new purpose. His death by being cannibalised is reminiscent of the Eucharist in which Christ’s body is consumed. However, none of us the significance of these similarities.

Our closing remarks focused on the connection between scent/smell and love/desire and how far our own responses to others are manipulated by pheromones without us realising. Some of us thought that Grenouille clearly desires love, but has been so unloved throughout his life that when he is ‘loved’ he doesn’t know how to cope with it and realises that he doesn’t need or want it. The ultimate act of love is when Grenouille is cannibalised by criminals at the end of the novel; “For the first time they had done something out of love”. Süskind seems to suggest that love is all-consuming and destructive.