Thursday, May 17, 2012

Das Parfum: Patrick Suskind's Story of A Murderer

Pic from
Perhaps the darkest, yet most eloquent piece of literature I have ever read, Suskind's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (1985) tells the tale of an orphan who was abandoned as a baby, with an extraordinary sense of smell, a lack of identity, and an obsession to explore his gift of scent into dark extremes. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille learns the art of perfume making, finds beauty in a virginal woman's scent, and seeks to transfer her scent into a bottle.

Sexually charged, mystifying, and about the love (and hatred) within humanity, Suskind's work is a horrifying page-turner. As Grenouille realizes that he, himself, was born in the stinkiest city in the world, with no smell, he experiences the pain and suffering of an innocent man, and despises humanity.  As the rich and poor try to save their daughters by marrying them off and banning them from the streets, Grenouille relishes in the game and hunts twenty five of them, knowing that he needs them, needs their scent. With third person narration that brings us directly inside the mind of a murderer, this novel draw you into deeper darkness with each page.

The Art of Translation

Most translated works seem out of place, missing character, and most definitely not original - but Suskind's story is magnificently transformed  by John E. Woods. Set in the backdrop of Paris during the French Revolution, we feel the streets come to life and Grenouille's twisted power change the people of city. As I have just started an online German course before my move to Europe, and  my career venture into linguistics, I cannot begin to imagine the difficulty and artistry required to translate the mood of this text.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer PosterA Ruinous Film

Yes, I venture to call it ruinous - disastrous. Without spoiling the beautiful climax and denouement of this novel, (a short novel I definitely recommend), I can only say that the film changed the meaning of the novel itself, simplifying both Grenouille's tragic descent and the horrifying actions of the townspeople. While Hollywood can only go so far in depth, Tom Twyker's Perfume (2006) simply cannot captivate Suskind's horrific, mystifying plot.

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