Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

100 Books by 40: Perfume

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Book: Perfume
Author: Patrick Suskind
Published: 1985 (Originally published in German)

I was riding the elevator at the office when I was transported to my twelve year-old self feeling the Formica of the table under neither my finger tips. I can hear the lite hits of the 70’s coming across the AM radio station; I smell the cornmeal mush that my dad is frying and the dry metallic pervasive scent of hot forced air coming from the belly of the furnace. I can taste the salty, crispy mush slick with butter and sweetened with Karo syrup. This journey was due to the gentleman stepping on the elevator wearing the aftershave that my dad wore most of my adolescent years.

Smells unlock rooms of memories that I didn’t know existed in my mind. Perfume is two hundred and fifty pages of smell. It’s set in Medieval France. The decadent language used to bring scents to life is vibrant. I’m stunned to learn that this book was originally written in German. The language is so lush, I had no sense that the thoughts were originally conceived in a different language.

The plot is unremarkable aside from the surprise ending, but does not detract from the delicious descriptions of sensory information. I have focused on smells since starting the book. I have remembered my favorite smells and why I have fond associations with them. I loved this book, not because the plot was revealing but because it opened a part of my daily sensory experience that I had lost touch with.

Be warned, the ending of this book is surprising. It neatly closes up the plot, so it’s satisfying in that way. But it does leave you feeling uneasy with scent, and how it can effect our emotions.

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