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Review: Perfume – Patrick Suskind

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The further I get into the BBC Top 100 Reads, the more I rely on others for recommendations. Most recently Francesca Main – an editor at Picador who has worked on some of my favourite books in recent years – suggested I read Perfume and, describing it as both dark and atmospheric, I was sold.

Taking 71st place in the poll of 100, Perfume is German writer Suskind’s best known work and was made into a film in 2006, starring Alan Rickman and Dustin Hoffman. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is the protagonist of the tale; born in Paris in 1738 to a mother who – having previously given birth to four still-borns or near-deads – quickly abandons him, leaving him for dead. However, unlike her previous children, this one survives and his mother is caught, charged with multiple infanticide and hung.

From then on, Grenouille encounters a series of rejections – from wet nurses who deem him to greedy, to one who – on account of his lack of smell – believes he is possessed by the devil – and finally to a priest who, like his predecessor, believes he has satanic tendencies.

Despite being disliked by both his peers and his elders, Grenouille possesses one of the finest noses in Paris, and is able to distinguish and isolate odours like no other; a talent which makes him invaluable to Parisian perfumers. But rather than using his talents to produce some of the world’s best perfumes, he sets about create a scent that will make him irresistible to anyone in his presence. Prepared to stop at nothing, Grenouille commits a series of heinous crimes that lead to the climatic ending of this tale.

Both evocative and atmospheric, the sizeable cast of richly imagined characters and decadent backdrop make this story of a murderer an unforgettable one.

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