Title: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.
Author: Patrick Süskind.
Genre: Fiction, literature, crime, mystery, horror, magical realism.
Publication Date: 1985.
Summary: In the slums of 18th century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift — an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer, who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille’s genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and fresh-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the “ultimate perfume” — the scent of a beautiful young virgin.
My rating: 7.5/10.
♥ And so he learned to speak. With words designating non-smelling objects, with abstract ideas and the like, especially those of an ethical or moral nature, he had the greatest difficulty. He could not retain them, confused them with one another, and even as an adult used them unwillingly and often incorrectly: justice, conscience, God, joy, responsibility, humility, gratitude, etc. - what these were meant to express remained a mystery to him.
On the other hand, everyday language soon would prove inadequate for designating all the olfactory notions that he had accumulated within himself. Soon he was no longer smelling mere wood, but kinds of wood: maple wood, oak wood, pinewood, elm wood, pearwood, old, young, rotting, modering, mossy wood, down to single logs, chips, and splinters - and could clearly differentiate them as objects in a way that other people could not have done by sight. It was the same with other things. For instance, the white drink that Madame Gaillard served her wards each day, why should it is designated uniformly as milk, when to Grenouille’s senses it smelled and tasted completely different every morning depending on how warm it was,m which cow it had come from, what that cow had been eating, how much cream had been left in it and so on... Or why should smoke possess on the name “smoke,” when from minute to minute, second to second, the amalgam of hundreds of odors mixed iridescently into ever new and changing unities as the smoke rose from the fire... or why should earth, landscape, air - each filled at every step and every breath with yet another odor and thus animated with another identity - still be designated by just those three coarse words. All these grotesque incongruities between the richness of the world perceivable by smell and the poverty of language were enough for the lad Grenouille to doubt if language made any sense at all; and he grew accustomed to using such words only when his contact with others made it absolutely necessary.
♥ He was not particular about it. He did not differentiate between what is commonly considered a good and a bad smell, not yet. He was greedy. The goal of the hunt was simply to possess everything the world could offer in the way of odors, and his only condition was that the odors be new ones. The smell of a sweating horse meant just as much to him as the tender green bouquet of a bursting rosebud, the acrid stench of a bug was no less worthy than the aroma rising from a larded veal roast in an aristocrat’s kitchen. He devoured everything, everything, sucking it up into him. But there were no aesthetic principles governing the olfactory kitchen of his imagination, where he was forever synthesizing and concocting new aromatic combinations. He fashioned grotesqueries, only to destroy them again immediately, like a child plaing with blocks - inventive and destructive, with no apparent norms for his creativity.
♥ I took him to be older than he is; but now he seems much younger to me; he looks as if he were three or four; looks just like one of those unapproachable, incomprehensible, willful little prehuman creatures, who in their ostensible innocence think only of themselves, who want to subordinate the whole world to their despotic will, and would do it, too, if one let them pursue their megalomaniacal ways and did not apply the strictest pedagogical principles to guide them to a disciplined, self-controlled, fully human existence.
♥ Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.
♥ We are familiar with people who seek our solitude: penitents, failures, saints, or prophets. They retreat to deserts, preferably, where they live on locusts and honey. Others, however, live in caves or cells on remote islands; some - more spectacularly - squat in cages mounted high atop poles swaying in the breeze. They do this to be nearer to God. Their solitude is a self-mortification by which they do penance. They act in the belief that they are living a life pleasing to God. Or they wait months, years, for their solitude to be broken by some divine message that they hope then speedily to broadcast among mankind.
Grenouille’s case was nothing of the sort. There was not the least notion of God in his head. He was not doing penance nor waiting for some supernatural inspiration. He had withdrawn solely for his own personal pleasure, only to near to himself. No longer distracted by anything external, he basked in his own existence and found it splendid. He lay in his stony crypt like his own corpse, hardly breathing, his heart hardly beating - and yel lived as intensively and dissolutely as ever a rake had lived in the wide world outside.
♥ Yes! This was his empire! The incomparable Empire of Grenouille! Created and ruled over by him, the incomparable Grenouille, laid waste by him if he so chose and then raised up again, made boundless by him and defended with a flaming sword against every intruder. Here there was naught but his will, the will of the great, splendid, incomparable Grenouille. And now that the evil stench of the past had been swept away, he desired that his empire be fragrant. And with mighty strides he passed across the fallow fields and sowed fragrance of all minds, wastefully here, sparingly there, in plantations of endless dimension and in small, intimate parcels, strewing seeds by the fistful or tucking them in one by one in selected spots. To the farthermost regions of his empire, Grenouille the Great, the frantic gardener, hurried, and soon there was no a cranny left into which he had not thrown a seed of fragrance.
And when he saw that it was good and that the whole earth was saturated with his divine Grenouille seeds, then Grenouille the Great let descend a shower of rectified spirit, soft and steady, and everywhere and overall the seed began to germinate and sprout, bringing forth shoots to gladden his heart. On the plantations it rolle in luxurious waves, and in the hidden gardens the stems stood full with sap. The blossoms all but exploded from their buds.
The Grenouille the Great commanded the rain to stop. And it was so. And he sent the gentle sun of his smile upon the land; whereupon, to a bud, the hosts of blossoms unfolded their glory, from one end of his empire unto the other, creating a single rainbowed carpet woven from myriad precious capsules of fragrance. And Grenouille the Great saw that it was good, very, very good. And he caused the wind of his breath to blow across the land. And the blossoms, thus caressed, spilled over with scent and intermingled their teeming scents into one constantly changing scent that in all its variety was nevertheless merged into the odor of universal homage to Him, Genouille the Great, the Incomparable, the Magnificent, who, enthroned upon the gold-scented cloud, sniffed his breath back in again, and the sweet savor of the sacrifice was pleasing unto him. And he deigned to bless his creation several times over, from whom came thanksgiving with songs of praise and rejoicing and yet further outpourings of glorious fragrance. Meanwhile evening was come, and the scents spilled over still and united with the blue of night to form ever more fantastic airs. A veritable gala of scent awaited, with one gigantic burst of fragrant diamond-studded fireworks.
Grenouille the Great, however, had tired a little and yawned and spoke: “Behold, I have done a great thing, and I am well pleased. But as with all the works once finished, it begins to bore me. I shall withdraw, and to crown this strenuous day I shall allow myself yet one more small delectation in the chambers of my heart.”
So spoke Grenouille the Great and, while the peasantry of scent danced and celebrated beneath him, he glided with wide-stretched wings down his golden clouds, across the nocturnal fields of his soul, and home to his heart.
♥ Yes, that was what he wanted - they would love him as they stood under the spell of his scent, not just accept him as one of them, but love him to the point of insanity, of self-abandonment, they would quiver with delight, scream, weep for bliss, they would sink to their knees just as if under God’s cold incense, merely to be able to smell him, Grenouille! He would be the omnipotent god of scent, just as he had been in his fantasies, but this time in the real world and over real people. And he knew that all this was within his power. For people could close their eyes to greatness, to horrors, to beauty, and their ears to melodies or deceiving words. But they could not escape scent. For scent was a brother to breath. Together with breath it entered human beings, who could not defend themselves against it, not if they wanted to live. And scent entered into their very core, went directly to their hearts, and decided for good and all between affection and contempt, disgust and lust, love and hate. He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men.