Thursday, June 10, 2010

Summer Reads - Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Two down, three to go for June! I started reading this last Friday, and I finished early this morning. Shortly after I began reading, I mentioned a few of my thoughts on the book based on what I had read so far. I've got to say, I'm kind of disappointed by this book. So many people recommended it! The plot sounded so interesting, too.

The summary:
In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift-an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille's genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and frest-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the "ultimate perfume"—the scent of a beautiful young virgin. Told with dazzling narrative brillance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity.
From Amazon.

I'll try to keep my thoughts as spoiler-free as possible. I think this is one book you need to read knowing as little as possible beforehand.

What I didn't like:
  • The end. I won't give too much away, but the end really turned me off from the book. Not because of the 'adult' nature of it, but rather it just felt forced to me. Kind of like Suskind needed something shocking to end with a bang, so he threw that in. (I'm so tempted to make multiple that's-what-she-said joke right now! Especially after an ending like that.) Also, the very end was another shocking, over the top scene, that was really grotesque. Not the biggest fan.
  • The middle? Okay, it's not that I didn't enjoy the entire middle portion of the book, I just thought it dragged on for much longer than it should have.
  • I just didn't get sucked in to this book. A lot of the time, reading felt more like homework than fun. I did a LOT of page-watching (clock-watching's literary twin!). Maybe because I didn't feel connected to the protagonist? Maybe because I'm a redhead and he's got a thing for redheads so I was a little creeped out? Maybe because it was translated from German? Who knows.

What I did like:
  • So so SO much research went in to the writing of this book. The main charcter, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, becomes a master perfumer during the story. We're treated to super detailed descriptions of the perfume-making process, and the whole thing is just amazing. 
  • Descriptive language. Suskind's writing is wonderful, I'll give him that. So much description is used throughout the book as Grenouille experiences and catalogues various scents he encounters. I could picture and smell so much of what was described. There's a LOT of description in this book (I'm talking pages and pages of it), but in my opinion it never detracted from the story. Scent and smell is such a big part of Grenouille's life that these descriptions just added layer and texture to the story.
  • Multiple point of view. Okay, this is probably getting a little 'writerly', but I really enjoyed the shifting points of perspective throughout the story. For the most part, we see things through Grenouille's eyes, but every once in a while we'll shift to someone else in his life.
Bottom line: Don't hold this book to be true-to-reality. I page-watched frequently, but at times I was sucked in to the story.

Next up:

Has anyone seen Perfume the movie? What are you reading right now?