Patrick Süskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murder

I have been thinking for a few hours, trying to figure out what this book is about. If you haven’t read it, you ought to. Here’s a page of reviews about it from over at Amazon.

This book is impeccably horrible, which is to say that it is horrifying and perfectly so. Süskind is a master of the craft of writing, and the vividness he brings to every moment in this novel is so immersive that just for the quality of the book I cannot recommend it more highly. Suskind’s restraint is stunning; he refrains from any great detailed descriptions of the many murders in the book, and the final one is so deftly done as to be almost beautiful.

Grenouille is a stunning character. He is wickedly evil, but not the kind of evil we are used to in North American storytelling and film; he is small and pitiful and nondescript (at least, after his transformation following his hibernation in the cave). He is worthless, a baby born to a homicidal fishmonger and doomed from the start. The world did him no good, in fact did him a great deal of evil. Had he been born in the twentieth century, it’s possible (though by no means certain) that his outcome would have been different, but that’s beside the point.

Meaning. I am not the sort of person who will ever suggest there is only one sensible meaning for a text, or that a text ought to be read for this or that meaning. That isn’t to say that a text shouldn’t be read in the light of other texts, or of context, of course. I am one of the first people I know (especially here in Korea) to vocally insist on that in any discussion of a text. However, no one reading of a text can ever embody the “meaning” of that text, nor should it attempt to.

What I want to ask, however, is where this book connects out to. I’m not sure what the book is about in this sense… for a book is in some ways about the books which are (referentially) “about” it.

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