Why Perfume by Patrick Süskind is Kirsty's choice
This week Kirsty Franks, librarian – books, reading & engagement, Horsham Library, chooses Perfume by Patrick Süskind.
“As a librarian and bookworm, my list of favourite books is pretty long so I thought I’d share a book that I found so unusual and inspiring in my university years that I’ve returned to it again and again. I’ve lent this book to so many people that my copy is barely holding together anymore!
“I actually watched the film version of my chosen book, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, before I read the book, but both were equally incredible and the film doesn’t stray too far from its source material. I was so affected by the film that I immediately read the book several times cover to cover.
“The story follows an orphan called Jean-Baptise Grenouille, born in 18th century Paris with an extraordinary sense of smell. His other-worldly gift leads him into a job as a perfumer and then to a life of murder after he discovers the most amazing scent of all – the smell of young beautiful women. Shunned by society and armed with the ability to make perfumes that change people’s perceptions of him, he embarks on a plot to possess and preserve the scent of women through a stream of gruesome murders. Be warned – it’s just as weird and horrifying as it sounds and has a very wacky ending!
“The 2006 film adaptation stars some big names, including Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman and Dustin Hoffman and is a lot more sinister than the book, showing Grenouille creeping down dimly-lit alleyways and incorporating lots of shots of him peeking through candlelit windows. The film also does a good job of cutting out some of the book’s lengthier passages – although of course, as books often do, the book delves a lot deeper in to Grenouille’s journey towards becoming a serial killer and spends time exploring the impact of his perfume-making abilities on the society around him.
“I’ve recommended this book to pretty much everyone I know and it’s always met with a Marmite response – people either love it or despise it. And to be honest, I completely understand why someone would hate this book – it makes a great book club read as it has a tendency to divide a room. It’s not a comforting or pleasant read, but the extraordinary plot and use of sensory language make it unlike anything else I’ve ever read.
“Picking this book up for the first time as a 19-year-old English & Creative Writing student, this book had such an impact on me that it affected my literary taste for years afterwards, and I drew huge inspiration from Süskind for many of my university writing projects.
“Süskind has written a few other novellas and plays in his native language of German, but I haven’t actually read anything else by him. I thumb through his other books whenever I spot them in libraries or bookshops, but I’ve never had the nerve to read one. Odd as this sounds, I’m hesitant to read any more of his books because I loved Perfume so much and am worried I’ll be disappointed! I’m sure this won’t be the case so one day I’ll pluck up the courage. This is the kind of book you might enjoy if you’re a fan of Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Isabelle Allende. It’s a combination of horror, fantasy, mystery, magical realism and historical fiction and is definitely a book to enter into with an open mind.”
Following the latest advice in relation to COVID-19, all West Sussex Libraries are closed until further notice, but they’ve introduced a virtual hub of your local library’s online services, all accessible from home via: https://arena.westsussex.gov.uk/web/arena/currentoffer
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