Review: Perfume

  • Cover for PerfumeTitle: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
  • Author: Patrick Süskind
  • Printed Pages: 263
  • Publish Year: 1987 (Penguin)
  • Recommended For: People that haven’t felt disturbed in awhile, enjoy macabre thrillers, vivid language.

First Lines: “In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His story will be told here.”

Sometimes I find it easier to write about a thing by first talking about how it made me feel. Perfume fits into that category. It’s a story that disturbs, yet fascinates. It repulses, yet somehow does it beautifully. For me, it was the literary equivalent of smelling something you know is going to smell bad but can’t help but to do it anyway. And I say all of this and still assert that this book is among my favorites.

The story is an homage to the power of smell. It’s an exploration into the ability of smell to both attract and repulse, both of which are emotions that this story imbues. How is it that a sociopathic murderer can find himself adored, tricking the world into thinking he’s a man of beauty and perfection? By appealing to a sense that only the murderer fully understands. By misleading with a perfected sense of smell and meticulously-crafted perfumes. By turning one of a person’s senses against the rest.

I don’t want to give a synopsis. I want to let the story unfold for you in the same way the tones and flavors of a fine scotch whisky reveal themselves: naked in a glass, exposed to air and judgement.

I’ve had this book on my list to read for a couple of decades now. I first heard of it from an interview with Kurt Cobain. Perfume was one of his favorites, a copy of which was always with him. He related to certain aspects of the main character of the story. He was so inspired by the story, one of the songs he wrote with Nirvana, Scentless Apprentice, was based upon the novel. I found that the book recently became available in Kindle format, which prompted me to snatch it up and finally partake in the experience.

After I read the book, I learned that it was adapted for film of the same name, starring Ben Whishaw and the recently-deceased Alan Rickman.

While not a book that I would recommend to everyone (if you’re more of a humor or romance novel reader, this might not be your flavor), I do recommend it to people with strong stomachs that aren’t afraid to visit a truly grotesque and gruesome mental place.

Selected Lines:

He would often just stand there, leaning against a wall or crouching in a dark corner, his eyes closed, his mouth half open and nostrils flaring wide, quiet as a feeding pike in a great, dark, slowly moving current.


Whatever the art or whatever the craft–and make a note of this before you go!–talent means next to nothing, while experience, acquired in humility and with hard work, means everything.


She had a face so charming that visitors of all ages and both sexes would stand stock-still at the sight of her, unable to pull their eyes away, practically licking that face with their eyes, the way tongues work at ice cream, with that typically stupid, single-minded expression on their faces that goes with concentrated licking.


This world molded in lead, where nothing moved but the wind that fell sometimes like a shadow over the gray forests, and where nothing lived but the scent of the naked earth, was the only world that he accepted, for it was much like the world of his soul.

My Rating: 4.5/5 – For being able to invoke contradicting emotions simultaneously, for inspiring me with descriptive language that I could almost smell, and for serving as a metaphor for humanity.