Perfume: The story of a murderer

5 02 2012

It doesn't end well.

By Patrick Suskind

Snarked by:  Sorcia MacNasty

This is easily one of the creepiest goddamn things I’ve ever read, and I’ve read some, well… just look at this blog.  It’s also a totally compelling read, for reasons I have trouble working through.  For one thing, the main character, the eponymous murdering perfumer, is kind of a total sociopath.  Hard to relate to a guy who wants to kill a bunch of virgins just to make a snazzy magical perfume.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Because this was written by a German, it begins and ends with complete horror.  I’ve seriously been teaching German lit for about 4 years now and I am continually amazed at the sheer volume of HOLYFUCKINGSHIT that is replete in books written by German authors.  Full Disclosure:  I have not read ALL German literature, so maybe there is some cheerful shit?  If so, please let me know in the comments.  Really.  I’m starting to worry about the Germans in a very serious way.  The books I have read?  Full of rape, creative murder, guys trying to fuck robots, castration fear, sexual innuendo that is either lost in translation or the scariest way to discuss bang-bang time possible.  Everyone seems fucking depressed, repressed, and most of the books end with gory suicide, failed suicide or people living in nut-houses, smearing their own feces on walls and gibbering.  WHY, Germany, why?!  Are you unaware that there are kittens in the world?  And an internet?  CHEER UP.

You're welcome, Germany.

Ok.  So our protagonist, the murderer, is born in a fish stall in Paris, in the 18th century.  His mother births him LIKE A BOSS under her table, cuts the chord, assumes he’s dead like the other 4 kids she pooped out in this fetid market, and leaves him among the discard pile, which consists of blood, guts and FISH HEADS.  But the baby wakes the fuck up and proceeds to bawl his face off, alerting her terrifying birth plan to the local authorities.  She is hung for infanticide and he gets sent to a monastery.  Where he’s rejected by both his wet-nurse and the monks because he has no smell.  Read that again.  Yep.  No smell.  It freaks everyone out.  Also?  Babies should smell like caramel, we’re informed.  He is named Jean-Baptiste Grenouille [Grenouille is French for "frog"... see what Mr. Suskind did there?] and booted off to a Roald Dahl-like orphanage run by a woman who, luckily, cannot smell so doesn’t get that the baby is evil, you know, because he has no smell.  What a bastard, amirite?  Also, he has the superhuman power of being able to smell everything, ever, like a fucking madman.  Which, well, just wait.

People do not like JPG, ever.  It’s the scentlessness, in part, and also his complete creeptitude.  He gets a job in a tannery and then weasels his way into a job with an aging perfumer who is astonished by his mad skillz in essential oils.  Somewhere along the way, he smells this perfect goddamn smell.  It’s coming from a young girl.  He follows her, sniffing her out through the alleys of Paris, and eventually catches up to her as she slices her plums.  Instead of showing her the business end of his meat stick, though, he just wants to sniff her to bits.  Welp, that can only mean one thing in German literature — It’s Murder O’Clock, people!  Yeah, totally strangles her and snoots her all up one side and down the other, until her scent fades as she, you know, begins to ROT.  He has a sad.

Eventually he heads off to learn better distilling methods in Grasse, spending a quality-time side trip in a cave on a fucking mountain where he finally realizes he has no smell.  This pretty much solidifies his cheerful hatred of all humanity.  Remember that part.  It’s gonna be a theme.  He has a sad.

He gets a job and starts learning about how to distill scents.  You know this ain’t gonna end well, now.  After snooting out a few delicious virgins and ending their lives, he eventually masters how to distill their smell, using animal fat and gauze or some shit.  He also shaves them, using their hair to get all the scent possible.  Now, the reader has been treated to a few lectures on how perfume is made, and we know he’s gotta have 24 of these smelly bitches to create his ultimate perfume, plus a 25th, elusively awesome scent that he’s gonna add in for kicks.  Then the cops start noticing all these dead, shaved adolescents all up in their business and it’s like, “Hey, maybe we should catch this insane motherfucker, even though he’s not cocking them — they all die virgins.”  There is a curfew and JPG is temporarily slowed down in his murder parade.  He has a sad.

Finally he gets all the dead smells into his bottles except for the 25th.  That one he’s saving for the scent of the richest girl in town.  She’s also the hottest.  And *ahem* a redhead.  Just sayin’.  But!  He’s awesome at being stealthy and murdery because, ha-ha on you fate, he has NO SCENT.  Dogs don’t even know he’s there.  No one ever notices this spooky bastard.  Anyhow, hot redhead = Laure.  Her dad, magically guessing that she is about to be killed and scent-stuffed into a bottle, takes her the FUCK out of town.  No problem for captain olfactory, though.  He just snoots her out and hides in the barn.  Waits.  Totally murders her with her dad in the next room and extracts her sweet, sweet smell.  I am telling you — this dude is remorseless.  But see, he HAS to make this magic scent because it will finally make people love him!  No one notices or loves him!  Aw!  SAD.  Murders are kinda justified, then, right?  No?  Ok.

Meanwhile, his shit gets discovered back in Grasse.  Like, all the dead chicks’ hair and clothes and whatnot.  Whoops.  They gonna get you, sucka!  He does get arrested, finally, but he’s got his magic bottle of Smelltastic now, so, joke’s on you, French Police.  He’s all about to be nailed to a goddamn cross and have his joints all busted, in public,  but he slips some perfume on right before trooping up the scaffold.

HOLY BADASS SMELL, BATMAN!

The whole town gets a whiff, declares he’s an innocent angel and then THEY HAVE AN ORGY.

(I could not even make this shit up, people.  Germany, my hat is off to you.  Again.)

But, JPG is having the biggest sad of his life.

He didn’t like being loved.  It kinda creeped him the fuck out.  He realizes — this is his actual epiphany — that it’s really better to hate and be hated by humanity.  Wow.  Thanks for the life lesson, Suskind, you bleak asshole.  Laure’s dad?  Kidnaps him because he’s delicious and tries to make him his own “son.”  JPG is having none of this heartwarming bullshit.  He books it back to Paris.  Back to his birthday fish-stall, in fact, or thereabouts.  Dumps the whole vial of awesomesauce over his head and lets the hobos just come for him.  They, quite rightly, cannibalize him.

Could happen to anyone.

Anyone in a German novel, anyhow.

So he’s been eaten and the author jovially tells us that the cannibal hobos are pleased with themselves because they did something OUT OF LOVE.  The fucking end.

Fine holiday fun, people.  Bring the whole family!  Seriously, though, do you know who the other recent male lead is who has a freaky thing for how ladies SMELL?

This douche.

Yeah.
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15 responses

5 02 2012
Antelope

This book sounds seriously awesome.

On the German authors who aren’t totally freaky, though, does Hesse count? He’s definitely not rape-you-to-death creepy…

6 02 2012
Sorcia MacNasty

The only reason Hesse doesn’t count is because he never gets taught at the college level, which is a shame. We seriously need fewer rape-you-to-death authors in the German canon. Maybe Hesse can lead the charge?

5 02 2012
Kim

Ok, so I’m a little ashamed to say that I did not know this was a book. I saw the movie several years ago, and was subsequently traumatized. Really very fucked up! Now I feel like I have to read the book to get the full scope of sad. This time without Robert Deniro’s non-crazy recognizing, performance.

6 02 2012
Sorcia MacNasty

I don’t think it’s Robert Deniro — you mean Alan Rickman? Either way, yeah, the movie is pretty fucking awful too. Thanks for choosing to bring this shit storm to the silver screen, HOLLYWOOD.

21 02 2012
texpatstarling

I usually try to read the book, even if I’ve already seen the movie, but I’m not really interested on this one. Two hours of that craziness was enough for me. Plus, at least with the movie you had the beautiful cinematography to go along with the murder and cannibalism.

21 02 2012
Sorcia MacNasty

Yeah, feel free to give this nonsense a pass — and I have that same rule for myself!

6 02 2012
Venom

Well, it FIGURES the hottest chick is a redhead…

Never saw the movie, and the book sounds a touch more horrifying than I go for. But I DID like this review however, Sorcia; your condensed version here means I’ll never accidentally download this thing onto my Kobo.

7 02 2012
Sorcia MacNasty

That’s what I’m here for. Keeping people from stumbling upon books that would make them insane. ;)

7 02 2012
se1ze

I? What? This is a thing?

Why did someone write this story? WHY!?

7 02 2012
Sorcia MacNasty

I swear, most of the German lit I have encountered is JUST THIS WEIRD.

Germans, please tell us. Is it something in the water? What?!

10 02 2012
ella

Haha I remember reading this book when I was a kid and feeling like I’d been served up a giant bowl of WTF. I gotta say I was trepidatious about watching the movie but found it surprisingly significantly less fucked up, tho that’s not really saying much. Man, I sure did read some inappropriate books as a young-ish kid. Between that one and Metamorphosis it’s no wonder I utterly refused to touch anything but romance novels for years after.

10 02 2012
Sorcia MacNasty

Jeez, I shudder to think what “kid” means in this context. Were your parents just hilarious inappropriate-book panderers or what?

14 02 2012
drektheuninteresting

Oh god. I just saw an episode of “Criminal Minds” with that plot. Well, minus the fish heads, anyway. And trust me, combining freaky German lit with hysterical over-acting does not a wonderful experience make.

15 02 2012
Sorcia MacNasty

The very idea of that combination makes my head hurt…

26 10 2013
Hanner

This stupid book (and I am a freak in love with books in general, so calling one “stupid” is quite meaningful) was perhaps the first that I could not force myself to complete.
Before this, I was not able to fathom that I’d ever actually skip giant chunks of a novel and not feel guilty. It was a moment that made me realize that life really is too short for some books.
I tried to read it for a book discussion club I had just joined, so I really should have felt like a jerk for skimming the second half and hating and resenting every moment I spent in the world of that novel. (The book discussion group did inspire me to read Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, though, so I have forgiven them.)

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