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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

September 23, 2009

Another disappointment.

Sometimes it’s useful when you’re halfway through a book to stop and ask yourself, “If an asteroid struck right now and all the characters died, would I care?” It was at that point in the book that I quit trying to read Perfume.

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is a nose – he can distinguish the chemical compositions of thousands of scents just by smelling them, even pick up the scents of things like glass and water. He experiences the world primarily through his nose. And he’s on a quest to create the perfect perfume. The only problem is that he has to murder beautiful women to obtain his special ingredient.

It sounds like a really cool premise, doesn’t it? But I have a hard time slogging through a book when I can’t relate to the main characters at all (cf Tigana). It’s not merely that Grenouille is a bad guy. Putting an antihero at the center of your book is an excellent artistic choice and makes for some of the world’s most celebrated literature (cf Frankenstein). Grenouille was like an alien to me while I read about him. The way he relates to the world and the way his mind works is so different that I kept jumping out of the story, going “Huh?” instead of getting lost in the narrative. Fantasy and science fiction writers have to write about some pretty weird individuals sometimes, and it’s our responsibility to make them understandable enough that readers can connect with them.

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