Saturday, January 27, 2007

Perfume – Patrick Suskind

Perfume (Read Red) (Amazon Link)

Oh the high hopes I had for this one. Possibly my favourite book of all time is Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, closely followed by The Name of the Rose. I love Eco's descriptive power, his joy of language and his intricate plotting, densely written structure. So anything that smacks of Eco tends to draw me towards it.

Perfume was one of those books that I bought hoping I'd get an Eco-like hit from it. And sure enough, it started out like an Umberto Eco; historical, descriptive, loads of intrigue. The premise of Perfume is fascinating; it chronicles the life of a man whose sense of smell is so acute he becomes a master perfumier in 18th C France. But his desire to accumulate and collect smells becomes obsessional and murderous.

The early portions of the book, detailing the ascent from squalor on the Parisian streets to the lofty position of master perfumier is excellent. Unfortunately despite sound plotting and certain dramatic and descriptive flourishes this was no Eco. At best, it was Eco-lite. But it petered out somewhat towards the end of the story and finished with an unfortunate whimper. A disappointment, but an enjoyable one nonetheless.


  1. Have you tried Neal Stephenson? Perhaps a bit geekier than the superb Signor Eco (dammit, even his pieces for in-flight magazine are interesting!) but equally rich in historical detail.

    The Baroque Trilogy is his magnus opus, set around the Restoration period and taking in real life figures such as Newton, Hooke and Pepys with fictional characters and ranging across alchemy, the birth of science, politics and even some swashbuckling pirating thrown in.

    If three 800 page tomes are a little off-putting (I read the advance proofs back to back, couldn't stop) try his standalone Cryptominicon, which again mixes real historical figures with fictional (as Pat Barker did with the Regeneration trilogy). This time moves from modern day (actually now the 90s) where a startup IT firm are working in the Philippines to WW2, Station X and Alan Turing, mixing the codebreaking war with the actual men on the ground - quite amazing stuff.

  2. Cheers Joe,
    But I've already got Stephenson's stuff on the Amazon wishlist.

    It was put on there after your review on the FPI blog.
    Oh incestuous world of comic blogging!!!!

    Of course, it will have to stay on there for a while. I have put myself on a book buying ban for this year. I've got 22 books on the shelf that I haven't read yet. So I'm reading those before buying any new ones.

    But Neal Stephenson, in one form or another, will find his way onto the bookshelves at Bruton mansions one day.