Book review: Perfume, by Patrick Süskind

When this book came out at the end of the 80's, it immediately acquired great fame in Spain. Everybody was reading it (except me, because life happens). I would take the metro daily and there would be at least three people reading it, no matter what carriage I got on. This book took over for quite a while.

Friends who had read it sold it to me as a story in which a wicked man murders young women in order to steal their essence and use it to create the ultimate perfume. It sounded exciting. This description seemed to invoke a mystery murder plot in which we learn about the murder's progress and expect somebody to be working to capture him. Sort of a detective story. Well, I came across a copy recently at the library and took it up. Soon I realised that my idea of what this book was like was far from the actual story.

I was soon hooked up. After three pages, I was surprised (pleasantly) with the style. After six, I was in love with it. The author begins by establishing the background with lots of humour and a very harsh, realistic, and dispassionate view of the world.

But the main point is that this story is not about the crimes. It is not a thriller or even a murder novel. Written in a style close to the naturalistic novels of the 19th century, the book simply depicts the facts of the life of the protagonist. It does not elaborate on the crimes. They just happen at some point and the author almost skips them, mentioning them, then going on to describe other events related to the protagonist. He does not expand on this man's psyche but to delve in the one aspect of his person that interests him: his obsession with smell.

There are some parts that deal with other people, all individuals who at some time or another come in contact with him. It is impossible to feel sympathy for any of them, same as with the protagonist; they all seem to be cold-hearted, selfish people who care for nothing but their own interests. The victims don't even get this, appearing already dead in most cases, and little is said of them. The other characters share the common fate of a particularly disgraceful end after their relationship with the murderer is ended. The author seems to have made an effort to keep his manuscript devoid of emotion. Maybe trying to keep it objective, perhaps looking to produce emotions in the reader that do not get clouded by the course of events. Some passages are so descriptive of these people that they became boring to me. The self-justifying reflexions of the protagonist's second employer, for instance, are repetitive and tiresomely long. The period the protagonist spends alone in the mountain -seven years of feral residence consisting mostly of sleeping- don't really tell us anything about him, but we end up wanting for this scene to end soon. It's just too bleak.

To sum up, an innovative way of tackling a story using resources typical of another era which work very well here. There is no plot, just a faint storyline that develops slowly. There isn't depth in the characters. There is a fascination for the sheer unjustified, almost unaware wickedness of someone with strange powers who lives a pointless life.

Review by Natalia Prats

Remember, remember, our next meeting is...

...on the 5th of November, usual time and place (6pm at St. Sidwell's Centre, Exeter). This will be a regular reading session. If you are an author and would like to benefit from interacting with a group of likewise minds with whom to share your work, exchange feedback and have some fun, you're welcome to join us.

After the success of the activities programmed last semester, we keep proposing interesting stuff with which to spice up our usual reading/feedback sessions. We are now introducing regular book reviews by our members, which we will be sharing here too. Keep an eye on this space, because the first one will be published soon.

Also please have a look at the book John E. Clarke, one of our members, has just published, The Ancestral Warrior. More information here.

We'll close down today with a note for an event: Free Theatre-Makers/scriptwriting workshops are taking place at the old sweet shop near Oxfam, South Street Exeter. Next one will be on Sunday 1st November at 5.30pm. If you're into writing plays, check it out!

The Ancestral Warrior

We are thrilled to introduce the latest work of an esteemed member of our group:

The Ancestral Warrior, by John E. Clarke.

The Ancestral Warrior, cover
In this innovative fantasy adventure we encounter a mysterious talking bear and a small diverse group of humans crossing a continent to rescue a distant city state from the grasp of a tyrant; but their return home is put in jeopardy by one of the defeated enemy's vengeful creatures. 'The Ancestral Warrior' is a unique combination of fantasy, action, mystery and adventure; a quest set in a parallel universe.

The eastern city state of Karwaat is ruled by a tyrannical usurper, a renegade priest who has heightened his hypnotic skills through paranormal means. A Karwaatian academic, who dabbles in the occult, sends a captive djinn called Abu Dib to faraway Norland. This academic has read a legend about a warrior bear who once lived there and defeated a similar usurper. He believes that such a bear may still exist. He instructs the djinn to find and bring that bear to Karwaat.

Having reached Norland, Abu Dib meets a young sheep farmer called Jo and, through her, a bear called Boris who works as a farmhand and is no warrior. Nevertheless, with the help of an exiled prince and his counsellor, they muster a team of five comrades to escort Boris to Karwaar. Helped by allies the comrades cross nine countries, encountering difficulties along the way until at last Boris can confront the usurper. But much more is to follow if the quest is to be brought to a successful conclusion.

The magical aspects of the story are firmly grounded in a precise realism. The ecological and geopolitical traditions, religions and technologies found in the different countries are described in sufficient depth to give verisimilitude to the make-believe continent across which the story roams. The author has drawn upon several years work experience in the Middle East and Africa. 

Available as Kindle book or paperback here!