Le Parfum, the story of a murderer, is the work of the German writer, Patrick Suskind. This novel has been translated from the original German into 45 languages. A movie, starring Ben Whishaw and Dustin Hoffman, was adapted from this bestseller in 2006.
The novel takes place in France during the 18th century. It tells about the life of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man who possesses an extraordinary sense of smell.
Jean-Baptiste was born into the stench of the fishmarket at the Cemetery of the Innocents in Paris. His mother, who had borne four bastards before him, gave birth standing behind her fish stall, and threw the baby onto a pile of rubbish as she had done with the others. But this baby was different. The newborn started crying, and attracted the attention of passers-by. This ended with his mother being arrested and condemned to be decapitated for attempted infanticide.
Little Jean-Baptiste was handed over to several nurses in succession, but none of them wanted to have anything to do with him. He was greedy, and worse, he had no odour. They all knew how sweetly babies smelled, but Jean-Baptiste was strangely different. He ended up with Madame Gaillard, a woman without emotion and without a sense of smell, for she had lost the latter in a childhood accident. She collected children and looked after them for a suitable fee. It was in her house that he learned to recognize the smells of his surroundings – flowers, grass, wood, water… But the other children sensed that he was somehow different, and rejected him from the start, even attempting to suffocate him.
One day, Madame Galliard had had enough of Jean-Baptiste, and handed him over to Monsieur Grimal, a tanner who needed man to help him. Young Jean-Baptiste worked hard at his disagreeable and dangerous tasks.As a result, Monsieur Grimal gave him permission to go out for an hour every day. During his free time, Jean-Baptiste roamed around Paris and explored every nook and cranny in search of the most extraordinary smells.
One evening, during the feast celebrating the coronation of Louis XV, Jean-Baptiste sensed a perfume that he had not experienced hitherto. This magnificent perfume led him across the entire city to a young girl in the Rue des Marais. Overwhelmed with desire to possess this perfume, Jean-Baptiste strangled her and tore her clothes off, to better savour her scent. He escaped the scene of the crime, but not without planning to become the best perfumer in Paris.
Later, his plan started to come to fruition. He arranged to deliver some goatskins to a master perfumer, Giuseppe Baldini. Visiting Baldini’s shop was overwhelming. It was chock full to the rafters with perfumes, unguents, pomades, herbs and oils, and had a laboratory with a wealth of essences.
Baldini scoffed at his offer to come and work as an apprentice, but he was quick to convince the master that he could formulate the most delicious perfumes. He started by replicating Amor and Psyche, a perfume by Pelissier for which all Paris was clamouring. Then he improved on it. At Baldini’s, he was hungry to learn all of Baldini’s techniques, and Baldini was well rewarded by his efforts. Of course, the magnificent scents that he invented were sold to the adoring Parisiennes under Baldini’s name.
Despite his success, Jean-Baptiste was frustrated by his inability to capture the scent of objects like glass and stone. More importantly, he would have liked to replicate the smell of the young girl in Rue des Marais. Baldini confided to him that there were other, more sophisticated techniques that were used, and that these could be learned in the city of Grasse.
It wasn’t long before Jean-Baptiste left Baldini’s house and set out to learn these techniques.
As soon as he had left Paris, Jean-Baptiste felt a certain well-being. At first, it was the experience of fresh air, away from the stench of Paris, but after awhile, he noticed that what he really disliked was people themselves. As a result, he wandered into the mountains of Auvergne and became a recluse for a period, living in an imaginary kingdom of scents.
Eventually, he set out for Grasse, and there he found work as a perfumer-apprentice. His goal was to create a perfume that was not only human, but superhuman – so powerful that anyone who inhaled it would fall under its spell.
One day, he sensed, far away, the odour of a young girl. This girl was the beautiful Laure Richis, daughter of the consul. Jean-Baptiste knew that he absolutely needed to possess this scent, but she was still too young. He knew that it would take two more years for her pheromones to have the time to ripen and be perfect for his perfume.
During this time, twenty-four murders were committed in Grasse. Each time, a beautiful young virgin was murdered, and her hair was cut off. Terror was the order of the day, and fathers were at a loss as to how to protect their daughters from the murderer who took only the best.
One night, it was time for the twenty-fifth. Jean-Baptiste stealthily climbed into the bedchamber of Laure Richis. He killed her quickly with a blow to the head, wrapped her in oiled cloths to extract her scent, cut her hair off, and removed her chemise to preserve the odours therein.
When the news of Laure’s death spread throughout Grasse the next day, the citizens decided to make every effort to capture and bring to justice her murderer. After several days, they ended up at Jean-Baptiste’s house, where they dug up the hair and chemise, as well as those of other victims.
Jean-Baptiste was summarily arrested and condemned to death.
His execution was fixed for five o’clock that afternoon, and the good people of Grasse arrived early in the morning, so as not to miss a minute of the spectacle.
As he ascended the scaffold, Jean-Baptiste sprinkled a little of Laure’s scent on him. The crowd went wild and abandoned all reason. They could see no reason why this pure and innocent man should be executed. Love was in the air, and Jean-Baptiste was the god who had brought it.
It couldn’t last, of course, so Jean-Baptiste headed for Paris before the effect on the crowd had worn off. He ended up in the old neighbourhood where he had been born.
Tired of his own solitude, and after the exhilarating experience in Grasse where he was adored by the crowd, he just wanted to be loved. But none of this was possible without his perfume. He was nothing without it, in the eyes of the world.
He sprinkled the remainder of Laure’s essence on himself, and was immediately surrounded by an adoring crowd. This time though, they advanced on him and, after they were finished, there was nothing left. He had disappeared