They say the sense of smell is the most powerful of our five human senses, because it’s most strongly related to our understanding of memory. I’m inclined to agree – one whiff of Australis Waterberry deodorant, for example, and I’m transported immediately into our Year 9 post-P.E. girls changerooms (not the best memory, but hey, it’s what comes to mind). I still remember the delight in receiving my first expensive perfume from my mum at age 15 (Estee Lauder’s Pleasures) and since then my passion for scent hasn’t wavered for a second.
Heading into winter, where colours, scents, sounds become (depressingly) increasingly muted – it seems my fanaticism for fragrance has become ever more fervent. Fellow lovers of fragrances – have you ever read the classic Perfume – The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Suskind?
You MUST. Whether you love perfume, red hair, murderous French people or just plain beautifully-vivid imagery in books, Perfume – The Story of a Murderer is an assault to all five senses, in all the very best ways.
The story of Perfume is hard to summarise, perhaps because the story itself is so dark, the protagonist so twisted, it is difficult to explain how the grotesque details are often the most beautiful in this eerily passionate read. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is a man without a scent, but who is accosted by the scents of everything around him, including people. With the capacity to become the most sought-after perfumer in France, Jean-Baptiste is not content with providing lushly sweet fragrances for the aristocratic stock, and instead becomes obsessed with finding perfume perfection – the celestial smell of the pure-white virgin. Up until now in the story, Jean-Baptiste is just a strange, anti-social human being. It is how he intends to create this perfume which makes him a monster.
My version of Perfume on the bookshelf is a muddy hardcover, a fifth-hand version given to me by a friend who shares my love for hidden beauty, a fondly-fingered and somewhat tattered read. It will always have pride of place amongst my very favourite editions, but of course there is a new edition that has caught my eye:
Everything about this cover evokes the gorgeously morbid story pressed between its pages: the heady white flowers, the skulls, cradled by the snipping scissors entwined with tendrils of ribbon-red hair. Sigh.
Perfume – The Story of a Murderer changed the way I read. It is elegant and darkly ironic and a number of other wonderful things, and I urge you to read it as well…if you dare.