This is a novel so beautifully written that it transcends into literature. Ingenious in its conception and carefully crafted, the author has created a unique and dazzling work of fiction. Divided into three parts, the book tells the story of a most unusual life, that of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille.
The first part of the book establishes that he was born to a woman who was hung from a gibbet for having left him to die. It turns out that Jean-Baptiste is an unusual baby. He gives people the willies, because, unlike most babies, Jean-Baptiste has no scent.
Over time, Jean-Baptiste develops into a boy with a secret gift. His olfactory sense is developed to a degree unheard of in humans. He delights in parsing the odors around him. Ugly, friendless, and a loner, he eventually ventures into the city of Paris, a malodorous and pungent cornucopia of smells. Believe me, there is plenty to sniff out in eighteenth century Paris! Jean-Baptiste savors each whiff, and the book conveys these olfactory delights with meticulous, descriptive precision.
His bleak existence is transformed, however, when he one day captures a heady scent of such exquisite beauty that he finds himself obsessed with it. Determined to have that scent at all costs, he eventually sniffs it out. It turns out to be the scent of a young virgin on the cusp of flowering into a woman. It is a scent that he must possess. What he does to do so will surely chill the reader.
Jean-Baptiste eventually maneuvers to get himself apprenticed to a perfumer, so that he can have the opportunity to learn the trade and create scents. He leads a bleak existence, subsisting as little more than a slave to the perfumer for whom he works.
The second part of the book begins when Jean-Baptiste leave his employer and goes on a personal pilgrimage, leading an austere existence away from civilization for many years. There, he withdraws into himself even further, living a totally self-sustaining, hermitic existence. He ultimately realizes what other have sensed about him. Jean-Baptiste has no personal scent. He simply does not smell.
With this knowledge, he returns to civilization where, having lived as practically an animal for many years, he creates a fictitious and adventurous scenario to account for his filthy and disgusting appearance. Subsequently, he is taken under the wing of some local nobility and feted and pampered. Realizing the importance of scent, he creates a personal scent for himself. He now realizes that he who has the power over scent can rule supreme. He intends to do so.
The third part of the book has Jean-Baptiste migrating to a town that is the hub for the scent trade. Perfumes, oils, and soaps are the stock in trade for this town and, as such, beckon brightly to Jean-Baptiste. Once there, he again smells a scent so delectable that he longs to possess it. He knows that scent for what it is and now knows that it is the scent, and not the personal charms of its bearer, that captures the attention and devotion of others. Jean Baptiste wants to harness that scent at all costs. He desperately desires the power to make others love him. He wants to be supreme.
It is his desperate desire to harness and possess that celestial scent that causes Jean-Baptiste, a socio-path with little empathy for others, to prey upon the maidens of the town in order to obtain that which he needs. It is his obsession that lays at the heart of the vortex that arises in the town, as murder after murder occurs. Yet, no one suspects him. What ultimately happens leads to an almost unbelievable climax, when Jean-Baptiste finds himself consumed by the passion he has managed to arouse in others through scent.
This is a heady, quirky, and compelling debut novel, like nothing I have ever before read. Complex and lyrical in its telling, it is a novel that stays with the reader long after the last page is turned. Bravo!