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“Perfume” by Patrick Suskind

“Perfumer. The Story of a Murderer ”- the world-famous novel by the German writer Patrick Suskind, which was first published in 1985 in Switzerland. The success of the novel was overwhelming, it sold around the world in a circulation of 12 million copies and is currently available to readers in almost 50 languages. Suskind’s book experienced a second wave of popularity in 2006 after the release of the film of the same name, directed by Tom Tykwer.

The main character (although it’s difficult to call him a hero in the full sense of the word) is a young Parisian named Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, whose life could have ended, barely beginning, if not a coincidence. His mother, who traded fish in the Paris market, has repeatedly got rid of unwanted children, but the attempt to kill Grenouya became fatal for her. The woman was accused of infanticide and executed in the town square, and the newborn was sent first to a shelter and then to a monastery.

Behind the physical deformity and lag in development, Grenuy concealed a unique feature: he could pick up and memorize absolutely any smell, even one that was not accessible to human smell and, as a result, had no name. For example, it was easy for him to detect hidden objects, to predict rain, and movement in complete darkness presented no difficulties for him at all. However, with all this, Grenouille did not have his own smell, which was first discovered by one of the wet-nurse, who was assigned a baby immediately after birth. The difficult life, coupled with constant humiliation, beatings, the risk of dying of hunger or being killed, completely destroyed all feelings in Grenouia. All but one – the sense of smell. After becoming acquainted with the perfumer Giuseppe Baldini Grenouille learns that smells can not only be felt, memorized and categorized, but also created and stored. After that, his life turns into a daily hunt for new and new smells, for which he is ready for any crimes.

Despite the fact that the novel tells about fictional events, in the text we find an abundance of exact dates, starting from the birth of Grenoi on July 17, 1738 and ending with his death on June 25, 1767. Exact dates have every important event, meeting, crime, in other words, everything that left an imprint in the memory of the main character. Therefore, the reader quite reasonably has a sense of reality of the events being described, as if the invisible biographer was constantly following the main character, accurately fixing all the vicissitudes of the perfumer’s uneasy life. Another structural feature of the novel is that it begins in the same place where it ends: in the Cemetery of the Innocent in Paris. The circumstances of both the birth of the hero and his death are equally tragic, but they are not without symbolism.

Perhaps the most important difference between “Perfume” from other novels is that this book “smells”. Indeed, the smell in the process of narration is of great importance. The author as if tries to show the reader the world around him through the eyes of a person for whom the sense of smell is the main feeling. At the same time, a detailed description of smells (as well as a clear dating of all events) helps to plunge deeper into the atmosphere of the novel, whether it is the stench of the Parisian market, the freshness of the early morning or the dizzying aroma of young beauty.

Biographical information about the author

Patrick Suskind (born 1949) is a modern German writer. He was recognized in 1960 after the release of the play “Double Bass”. In addition to the novel “Perfume”, is the author of a number of short stories, novels, screenplays. Currently Zyuskind lives alternately in Munich, then in Paris, leads a reclusive life, does not give interviews and does not agree to photography.


Igor Konchakovsky

Photo source: pixabay.com

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