Serial Killers, Hermits, Magical Realism and Anthrax!
From an early age I discovered a love of detective stories.Tales of great men and women like Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple delving into horrific crimes to find the culprits filled my mind and for many years the idea of being a private detective was strong in my mind. After a while, I started to wonder about the culprits themselves,These perpetrators of vile and disgusting deeds. What drove them? Why did they do the things they did? How did it all start? To this day I’m slightly obsessed with shows like Criminal Minds. So when I saw a book detailing the life of a fictional serial killer in eighteenth century France, I knew it was worth a read.
The book was Perfume by Patrick Süskind. It tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an orphan boy with an incredible scent of smell. Through the course of his life he tries to create a scent that is purer and more beautiful than any other and he will stop at nothing to achieve it. He is undoubtedly a sociopath and his moral compass is totally non existent. Like many serial killers it is his one abnormality, his nose, that causes his journey towards violence and murder. The only difference between Jean-Baptiste and other killers like the Son of Sam or the Zodiac killer is that he doesn’t kill for glory or to be recognized. He does it purely to satisfy his need to bottle beauty.
This is a very good book. It borders on being fantastic but doesn’t quite hit the mark. Jean-Baptiste’s journey through France and the experiences that lead to his crimes are thrilling and very readable. The character himself is totally despicable and disliking him is quite easy, especially when the writer repeatedly refers to him as a Tick, curled up on himself, waiting for the scent of blood to wake him so he can drop onto unsuspecting victims and start to feed! He’s described in the most brilliantly grotesque way, with a slight club foot, Anthrax scars behind his ears and looking almost like a hunchback, which is why I was surprised to hear that Ben Wishaw had been cast to play him in the movie. even with the makeup he wears, he’s just a bit too pretty to be a convincing Jean-Baptiste. Then again, I am yet to see the film so I may have to stand corrected.
What stops this book being truly fantastic is the supporting cast. Whilst Jean-Baptiste is a great character he isn’t strong enough to carry the whole story. The other characters who come into his life unfortunately come across as somewhat two dimensional. The perfume master trying to get back on top, the havershamesque matron that looks after him as a boy, the wealthy nobleman trying to protect his daughter and the fellow apprentice who smells of sperm, all seem to be caricatures of real people. with so much detail spent on Jean-Baptiste it seems a shame to me that more time couldn’t have been spent on others in the cast. Despite this, I still thoroughly enjoyed myself reading it.
So who should read this book? Any fans of the more brutal murder shows on TV will like this. Criminal Minds, Luther, Hannibal, Dexter or True Detective fans should definitely give this one a go. Any fans of Magical realism I think would also enjoy this. It doesn’t have quite the same level of it as “Like Water for Chocolate” or “100 Years of Solitude” but there is enough to class “Perfume” in the same category. If you actually wear perfume on a regular basis and are interested in finding new scents, maybe give this one a miss. I love steak but you don’t see me reading books about famous abattoir’s. What books would you recommend for the more morbid reader? do you have a favorite villain you love to be disgusted by?