Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
|April 4, 2012||Posted by Jane Lu under culture, science|
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, written by Patrick Süskind, is a book of both horror and mystery, and I would say that it is by far the best book I have ever read.
The book follows the story of Grenouille, a boy born in a Parisian fish market among a pile of fish heads and guts. As an orphan Grenouille was raised by a wet nurse, but he was soon given away to an orphanage (because he did not possess a smell) and later apprenticed to a tanner. In fact, Grenouille is gifted with an extraordinary talent that enables him to distinguish between even the most similar of smells. One day, while exploring Paris, Grenouille comes across a scent that he has never smelled before. Following the traces of the aroma, he finds the smell belongs to a young girl. This prompts Grenouille to decide that he wants to be a perfumer, in order that he might recreate the girl’s scent.
In his quest to fulfil his dreams and ambitions, Grenouille goes to the city of Grasse – the origin of all great perfumers – where he soon starts to murder young girls in order to try to capture their scents and make perfume. Eventually Grenouille is caught, found guilty of 24 murders, and sentenced to death. However, after smelling his perfume the whole town is completely engulfed and defeated by the wonderful aroma, and Grenouille is immediately pardoned. On his return to Paris, Grenouille comes upon a gang of bandits who also become overwhelmed by the scent of his perfume – so much so that they all want part of him, and slice off and consume his flesh in a gush of pure passion and love for the smell.
In my opinion, what made the book Perfume: The Story of a Murderer interesting was not only the creative storyline but also the inspirational and creative theme behind the story: scent.
Indeed, the entire story revolves around the idea of scent; even the title of the story appeals to the human sense of smell. It seems as if the behaviour of the characters in the story depends on their scent: Grenouille was given away and abandoned because he did not have a scent, and yet he was considered supernatural and almost god-like because of his talent at identifying smells, while the young girls in the story were killed because of the aroma they possessed. In a way, it is as if human behaviour or even humanity itself is controlled by smell. At first this notion seemed bizarre, but after I put some thought into it I realised the idea is actually entirely possible.
I once read an article saying that males tend to look for a sexual partners who smell similar to their mothers. Some people may have a strong and distinctive scent, yet some people may appear not to. In fact, all humans possess their own smell – sometimes we cannot smell them, but that does not mean there is no smell at all. I personally find this very interesting. Smell is included in the list of our five senses, along with sight, sound, taste and touch, but it always seems that the sense of smell is the least important of all. At least, when we judge – perhaps except in the case of food – we seldom use the sense of smell. To demonstrate this, I asked 20 of my friends what they thought is the most important sense of the five. 15 of them answered with the sense of sight, while only two of them reckoned that the sense of smell is the most important.
Consider the following: when you see a jacket, you may comment on its style or colour using your sense of sight; when you are eating a chocolate bar, you may comment on its sweetness or bitterness using to your sense of taste; when you are listening to music, you may comment on its notes or rhythm using your sense of sound; when you see a wall, you know that bumping into it will hurt because of your previous experience with the sense of touch. So when do we ever use our sense of smell? We often say not to judge people by their appearance but do we ever judge people by their smell?
To answer this question, I did some research on the relationship between what people smell and their judgment in response. According to the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation it is suggested that judgment is indeed influenced by a person’s scent. For instance, people usually associate cleanliness with money and success. Hence, if you want to appear successful you should smell like soap.
It is interesting that we almost totally ignore smell, despite it being a sense that we use everyday. As humans we often assume things – just as we assume smell is not our most important sense – and yet, as we all know, it is hard to live without any one of the senses. In my opinion, we make assumptions based on our beliefs and what we think is true. We think, we judge, and then we assume. As humans we have emotions and it is absolutely normal for us to assume and judge – so long as we bear in mind that our assumptions are not facts.
After all, just consider the way the people of Grasse changed their mind about Grenouille because of how wonderful he (or technically, his perfume) smelled.