Perfume: The Story of a Murderer Summary

Patrick Süskind

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer Summary

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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is a 1985 historical novel by German author Patrick Suskind, originally published under the name Das Parfum. Centering on Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an 18th century French orphan who is  born with an exceptional sense of smell but isrejected by society. Being able to distinguish a vast array of scents is very useful for his work in the perfume trade, but his thoughts turn to murder when he encounters a girl with the most wonderful scent he’s ever smelled. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer explores themes of obsession and the charismatic power of evil, as well as the relationship between our sense of smell and our emotions. Translated into 49 languages and selling more than twenty million copies nationwide, it is one of the most successful modern German novels. It received widespread critical acclaim and was the winner of the 1987 PEN Translation prize for its English-language release. A German-language film adaptation premiered in 2006, and there have also been a Russian musical adaptation and several references in songs by popular bands.

The novel opens in Paris, France in 1738, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born to a mother who is immediately arrested for infanticide. Effectively an orphan, Jean-Baptiste moves from foster home to foster home; he is repeatedly rejected due to his difficult personality. He is eventually apprenticed to a tanner. at this point, no one knows about his extraordinary olfactory abilities, which allows him to distinguish any smell. This allows him to perform apparently magical tricks, like identifying bad vegetables by the smell of worms, or tell who is approaching a house. He can even navigate in total darkness by smell alone. One day, after memorizing all the smells in the city, he is surprised by something he’s never smelled before. He traces it, and finds that the source is a young virgin girl who has just entered puberty. She’s only a few years younger than Grenouille. He becomes obsessed with possessing her scent, and believes it must be his and his alone. He stalks and kills her, staying with the body until the scent has gone. He subsequently becomes an apprentice to the once-great perfumer Baldini. He proves himself to be an amazing perfumer; Baldini teaches him the science of perfume, showing him how distillation can be used to preserve a wide range of odors. He tells Grenouille that some unique scents can be found in the heartland of the perfumer’s craft, the Grasse region in the French Riviera.

As he travels to Grasse, Grenouille discovers that he is disgusted by the scent of humanity. Seeking to avoid it, he decides to live in a mountain cave and avoid people. However, after years he realizes that he himself has no scent. He then travels to Montpellier, concocting a story about being kidnapped to cover for his reappearance. He creates an odor for himself using chemicals, which fools people. Realizing that he had been ostracized all these years because of his lack of scent, his disdain for humanity is renewed and he looks down on other people for being fooled so easily. He realizes he can create a scent that will make people perceive him any way he likes, even as superhuman. Reaching Grasse, he trains further in how to extract and preserve scents. One day, he encounters a scent even more fascinating than that of his first victim. It belongs to a young girl named Laure Richis. Grenouille decides this time he’ll preserve her scent physically. He begins stalking and killing teenage girls to practice bottling their scent. He doesn’t molest them, but harvests a lock of their hair before killing them. Laure’s father realizes his daughter is being stalked and tries to take her to a safe place. However, Grenouille follows them, kills Laure, and bottles her scent. Soon afterwards, he’s caught, placed on trial, and sentenced to death. On the way to his execution, he wears a new scent that creates awe and love in others. The crowd is soon drawn to him, and everyone believes he is innocent. He is released as a result, and even Laure’s father wishes to adopt him as his son. The scent causes the entire town to participate in a mass orgy that no one ever speaks of again. Grenouille realizes that he j hates people. Returning to Paris, he pours the bottle of his latest scent over himself as he enters a public square, and is torn to shreds by people so obsessed with the scent they would do anything to get a piece of him. The crowd is left shocked and embarrassed by their actions, but have the odd feeling they did it out of love.

Patrick Suskind is a German author and screenwriter, who works primarily in the magical realism genre. He is best known for Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, which is also his only full-length novel. He has released three novellas, a collection of short stories, a play, and an essay collection, as well as writing the screenplay to the 1997 film Rossini. Notoriously reclusive, Suskind lives in Munich and very little is known about his personal life.