Saturday, May 06, 2006
I just finished reading Perfume by Patrick Süskind. Some people will know it as the novel that inspired the Nirvana song "Scentless Apprentice". It's funny the lyrics to that song go from being weird and inaccessible to being a very basic book report, but of a rather strange book, so it works out nicely.
The story is a fairly well-written page-turner with lots of tidbits about the basic craft of constructing perfume. What I found most interesting was the description of how the main character's extraordinary sense of smell worked, and the metaphors to our own context that the author used to convey this sense which is nearly perfect in the main character, Grenouille, but so ignored by ourselves. The author talks about how each smell becomes a solid memory and can tell the story of any given person or object. Grenouille would instantly know everything about a person from theri smell, and could assess people's intensions by how their mood affected their personal odor.
The only other similar attempt to describe a heightened sense of smell that I've read was in Stephen King's book The Eyes of the Dragon where one chapter is written from the perspective of a dog creeping through a tunnel to find a prince locked in a tower (or similar.). In that book, which allowed for the existence of real magic and therefore didn't limit its context and comparisons to what a 18th century European might have been familiar with, scent was manifested as glowing visual trails of electrically charged air, suspended and moving and alive, and more prominent in the mind of the dog than what his eyes would see.
I found that book at VV a little while ago.