This is the story of an orphan in 17th century France, Grenouille, who is possessed of an extraordinary sense of smell. He can smell a person coming before he can see them. He can pick the constituents of a perfume by one whiff, and their proportions. As if in recompense for this, he lacks most other basic human senses. He does not feel fear, pain, is unable to become attached to other humans, and ironically, has no personal odour.
Thus "Perfume" tells of Grenouille's attempts to use his sense of smell to make up for what he lacks, particularly the feeling of love. He has been exploited and patronised through most of his life, enduring it only in the knowledge that he will one day be a great, admired man, by creating a personal scent that people cannot resist. And he goes to extraordinary lengths to create this unique personal odour - as the book says, he is a murder. Collecting the personal odours of others and blending them for his own use.
And he succeeds. Where before he was not noticed by anyone, now people loose control in his presence. But in the end, what he thought would make him feel loved, only leaves him contemptous of those who are tricked by his scent.
Grenouille is cold-hearted, self-absorbed and has no regard for animal or human life. The violence is not portrayed graphically, but you get the import of it nonetheless. You will shake your head, unable to understand how someone could be so totally devoid of emotion. Seeing murder as no more than picking a flower for a perfume. But in the end, you pity Grenouille, because he failed in elliciting love, which is all he really ever wanted.
The book is written in a witty, easy to read style, and most of the content is anecdotes of Grenouille's childhood and working life. What made him want, and need to do what he did. Perfume keeps it's pace well, not flagging, and overall it is a highly highly entertaining, original read.