Book Review : Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer by Patrick Süskind

Genre : Historical Fiction, Classic, Thriller, Horror
Page : 263 pages
Published : in 1985

An acclaimed bestseller and international sensation, Patrick Suskind’s classic novel provokes a terrifying examination of what happens when one man’s indulgence in his greatest passion—his sense of smell—leads to murder.

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 fresh-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 brilliance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity.

“He succeeded in being considered totally uninteresting. People left him alone. And that was all he wanted.”

At first glance, I am captivated by the title. I started to read the summary then decided that I could take my time to read this book (I’m not that busy but let me pretend to be one) but then reality hits harder when reading expectations turns to illusion and I ended up reading this months after my confident proclamation. What triggers me more, this book is refers as not only bestseller but also international sensation. Isn’t that enough to triggers your reader souls?

I was shocked when this book is categorized as classic. I was like “Woah. Give me a second.” This is probably the darkest classic I have ever read. I used to read classic with a very prominent and promising main lead with bright future ahead and learning the meaning of life a lot from the genre. However, this is a whole new level classic. Totally rip you off from your typical classic fantasy.

The story centres on Jean-Baptiste Grenouille — the protagonist as well as the murderer . The story settings on France, so coming from Indonesia, I found it quite difficult for me to picture the exact location because I am not familiar with the roads, like how he can slip through this way here and there. (Even though I really admire France architecture) Yes, I sucked at Geography and bad in remembering names. There, I said it.

The story takes place in eighteen-century of France where you can imagine the roads are very hectic, busy, crowded and smells. Grenouille and smells are two things that can’t be separate. Unlike any other “normal” human who have body odours, Grenouille did not possessed any and on top of that, he has a gifted nose that allowed him to have strong sense of smelling. Grenouille odourless body and his unique ability may be what it takes to bring him down the road of a murderer.

  • Odourless Body

Grenouille is pictured as an unattractive and plain young man. He is the kind of man where people would never notice his presence until he talks because Grenouille did not possessed body smell. Ever since he was little, he was often being hand-over from one caretaker to another. His odourless body is one of the reason he’s being hatred and shunned. People hate him for being different, some even thought of him as a devil (you know, eighteen-century.)

  • Amazing Keen of Smelling

If people are seeing things with eyes, Grenouille sees things through his nose. He could emphasized correctly how many people were behind the closed doors, their exact position, their identities, what is happening in the room, he could even walk though the dark without any lights and smell his way out since he could pinpoint exactly where the stuffs are and once, he even helped his caretaker in searching for their lost money and he found them easily. Grenouille amazing sense of smell help him in so many ways but also cursed him at the same time.


Because no one possessed the same ability as Grenouille, people can’t understand him and he knows it ever since he was little. Grenouille gifted nose is something he has to keep it to himself. 

I love how unique this book is by deciphering smells. I find it hard to write a story mainly focused on smells. Like how do I even start? The big pictured of the story is obvious, smells attracts people. People tend to love others who smell good and some even fall in love with how fresh and nice the scent is and eventually, start to love the person who carries them. 

However, it’s rare to have a good natural scent of body odours. Therefore, people start wearing perfumes to gain confidence and sent good impressions hoping that love may comes naturally.

Grenouille story makes no different. However, with a little touch of fantasy that I find it amusing and at the same time, absurd. In the book, it was told that people feel the presence of someone by their body odours. A subtle scent will turn people head immediately to the check the source before going back to their activities. I understand there are a lot of smells during the eighteen-century but can you really feel others presence by only their body odours? This point makes me ponder hard..

However, Patrick Süskind relate the perfume story quite on point with the reality. With Grenouille as the main lead — who do not understand what is love, how to love and never yearns to be love. Grenouille’s passion turns to deep ambition, wanting to make an “ultimate perfume” the perfect perfume no-one has ever made before. 

The story also kind of slow burn since this book is like Grenouille biography — told from a third person point of view. The book slowly start with how Grenouille was born, how he lives his childhood, how he climbs to teenager and adulthood. The story is told in calm way that I don’t even believe that I’m reading a murder section right now. 

Another thing to expect from the book is it’s like a book come true for perfume lovers. This books consist of rich and deep explanation about scent and the elements. Even the eighteen-century processed of making the perfume is told in a careful and detailed way.

Do not worry on the murder part though. Like I stated above, this book is more about Grenouille rather than his career as a murderer. Meaning, not too much detail and blood on the murder but more about his obsession in creating the “ultimate perfume.” If eighteen-century claim him as cruel, I’m going to claim him as psychopath.

One thing that I can’t stop thinking about ever since I finished reading the book is, even though I know Grenouille was on the wrong side, I can never really make myself hate his character. Reading him growing up and knowing the story behind the good deeds and bad deeds he does makes me understand why he walks the wrong road.  I would very much so want him death but at the same time, I also pity him for his life.

Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer is an odd, surprising, unique and bizarre read.

If you are looking for a book with all genre inside, I think this should be it. There’s a mixture of poetry, fantasy, horror, historical and realistic fiction. All is there in the book in perfect portion and scale. Meaning, there are no one specific dominant genre for the book. The paragraph turns to poetic once they describe about scent, a subtle touch of fantasy here and there that makes this book bizarre , horror but not that bloody, historical since the book writes about the eighteen century and realistic fiction since the writing style seems so real and there are some aspects that we can relate in life. This book also a mixture of classic since this book has survived for generations and still be international sensation.

“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”

Author : Celine

17 thoughts on “Book Review : Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer by Patrick Süskind

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