Mr Jones’ English Department Reading Group squeezed its most recent meeting into the week before the Christmas holiday in December, when Patrick Suskind’s unusual cross genre novel Perfume was up for discussion. Despite the absence of a recognisable ‘good guy’, or indeed of any likeable character whatsoever, opinions in the group were generally favourable. There was a feeling that the unorthodox nature of the novel, part historical drama, part murder mystery, part fairy story, made for an interesting and thought provoking read. Members of the group were not always engaged by the lengthy technical descriptions of perfume making but found Suskind’s preoccupation with the connection between our olfactory senses and our emotional, intellectual and spiritual life fascinating.
A strong view emerged that in Jean Baptiste Grenouille Suskind has created a character both repulsive but oddly sympathetic. By the end of the novel we found ourselves bizarrely ‘rooting’ for the amoral serial killer! It was pointed out however that the fairy tale elements of the novel do tend to lessen the impact of the more horrific scenes, serving to remove them from any sense of reality. The religious and political allegories hinted at in the novel were considered but there was no agreement as to which of these was the more persuasive in attempting to reach a deeper understanding of the story. Suskind’s use of language, translated from the German of course, was felt to be a particularly impressive feature and the book could certainly never be described as dull. Indeed, it would be true to say that members of the group are unlikely to forget this strange and intriguing novel easily.
The Reading Group will reconvene in February when Muriel Spark’s ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ will be the subject for discussion.