Friday, January 12, 2007

What's That Smell?

Today, GalleyCat asks What's the book you'd warn everyone off? (A Million Little Pieces is off the table as too easy a target.) I started writing an email response, but it grew so long I decided to post it here.

Stay away from PERFUME: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind.

I can't for the life of me figure out why Perfume became an international bestseller. It is unrelentingly creepy and morbid, without a single ray of hope or redemption.
Suskind appears to suffer from optical rectosis (a shitty outlook on life). The characters, except for some wretched children and murderer Jean-Baptiste Grenouille's innocent victims, range from odious to hateful to monstrous.

When I saw the movie trailer, my gut response was "EWWW!!! A movie?! Why?" But according to the film's German producer, Bernd Eichinger, quoted in the Denver Post, "People have a very deep and emotional relationship to [the book]. They consider it to be part of their biography. They read it again and again and again over the years." Oh, those wild and crazy Germans! Once was more than enough for me.

The book also has a glaring error, which I still recall after some 15 years: Grenouille ("Frog") retreats to a remote mountain hideout, without writing implements or any way to track time, in an effort to expunge himself. Yet when he emerges he knows he was there for seven years. How?

I was gratified to see that Rex Reed agrees with me about the book and is just as down on the movie, which he reviews for the NY Observer under the headline "Perfume Stinks."
(Unlike him, you couldn't pay me to see the movie.) He concludes that PERFUME is "all about smells, and the one sense that no motion picture can capture or share is the olfactory. This is a good thing, because the scents conveyed in this movie are largely putrid."

Mr. Reed has apparently forgotten that John Waters's POLYESTER was initially released in fabulous "Odorama," with scratch-and-sniff cards keyed to the movie. When a number flashed onscreen, the audience was supposed to scratch the corresponding spot on the card. Waters famously cried, "I got to see the film's audiences pay to smell shit!" I think PERFUME director Tom Tykwer missed a big opportunity.


ORION said...

I do SO enjoy your posts.
No wonder I am getting no writing done!

Suz at Large said...

Oh, thank you for posting this!

I am baffled and even vaguely ashamed when I am totally uninterested or even repelled when I read the jacket copy of a Big Deal Bestselling Book. As in, what's wrong with me; THEY all think this is so cool so I must be missing something.

That happened with this book. I never read it. Your comments renew my confidence in my own taste and common sense.

judy said...

I haven't read PERFUME but my 17 year-old daughter has. She loves it. Finds it fascinating. She ranks it up there with Lovely Bones and White Oleander. I don't think I'll read it.

Anonymous said...

What's the glaring error?