Sunday, December 13, 2015

Perfume



The cover design of Perfume by German writer Patrick Süskind from The Folio Society, London is simply gorgeous.

It was bound at Hunter & Foulis, Edinburgh, in cloth, blocked with a design by Neil Packer.




I simply don't know how to describe this great German classic of the 1980s. The writing is rich, beautiful and intense.  It's an eighteenth-century murder story, except that it doesn't focus on the victims and the hunt for the killer, but rather emphasises the life and times of the murderer, who is an abominable and unusual, yet gifted protagonist to say the least.

Jean Baptiste Grenouille (French for "frog") is born in Paris, France in 1738; Born a bastard in the stinking heart of the city of Paris under a gutting table, the first cry he utters sends his mother to the scaffold for abandoning an infant. Grenouille grows up by sucking many wet nurses dry, survives the horrendous childhood of an orphan in an age without mercy, and grows up to become a successful perfumer. For this is his unique gift: the child who does not emit any smell himself is blessed with extraordinary olfactory capabilities, which allows him to recognise, separate and catalogue in his mind all the different odours he comes into contact with. 

But simple identification is not enough for Jean. He is driven by the insatiable urge to possess any smell he likes for himself; he will move heaven and earth to extract it from its origin, make a perfume out of it and keep it with him. He is not bothered that the object which originates the smell will be destroyed in the process of extraction: he is a "smell-vampire". And like a vampire, it is the smell of virgins which drives him wild. Ultimately, Grenouille's gift and single-minded obsession proves to be the cause of both his uplift and undoing...  ~  GoodRead


Some extracts from the book :

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 of 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.

Normally human odour was nothing special, or it was ghastly. Children smelled insipid, men urinous, all sour sweat and cheese, women smelled of rancid fat and rotting fish.  Totally uninteresting, repulsive - that was how humans smelled ...

He did not want to have his newfound respiratory freedom ruined so soon by the sultry climate of humans.  (Ouch! We humans stink.)

There was nothing common about it. An absolute classic - full and harmonious. And for all that, fascinatingly new. It was fresh, but not frenetic. It was floral, without being unctuous. It possessed depth, a splendid, abiding, voluptuous, rich brown depth - and yet not in the least excessive or bombastic. (Coco Chanel N°5 ?)

In the period of which we speak, there reigned in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women. The street stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the stairwells stank of mouldering wood and rat-droppings, the kitchens of spoiled cabbage and mutton fat; the unaired parlours stank of stale dust, the bedrooms of greasy sheets, damp featherbeds, and the pungently sweet aroma of chamber-pots. The stench of sulphur rose from the chimneys, the stench of caustic lyes from the tanneries, and from the slaughterhouses came the stench of congealed blood. People stank of sweat and unwashed clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth, from their bellies that of onions, and from their bodies, if they were no longer very young, came the stench of rancid cheese and sour milk and tumorous disease. The rivers stank, the marketplace stank, the churches stank, it stank beneath the bridges and in the palaces. The peasant stank as did the priest, the apprentice as did his master's wife, the whole of the aristocracy stank, even the King himself stank, stank like a rank lion, and the Queen like an old goat, summer and winter.   (Faint)

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