This novel with its olfactory theme started off hitting us with detailed descriptions of the stench of the city, the river and of the people. Everybody stank, from the aristocracy to the beggars. Amidst this stench, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born to a fishmonger as she was in the middle of gutting fish. Instead of being able to have her newborn carted away with the pile of fish guts, the mother fainted in public view and was hanged for infanticide of her other “stillborns” after confession. An unloved and unwanted child from birth, Grenouille was cursed with no smell, although he has a supernatural ability to detect scent. Reviled by others, he was a “tic” who took too much from the wet nurses. He was rejected by his wet nurse because of his lack of smell, scared the Father of the church by smelling him, and apprenticed to a tannery with poor working conditions where he almost died. With his extraordinary olfactory sense, Grenouille set out to find his mission in life by becoming a perfumer. He ingratiated himself to a talentless perfumer who can only follow the rules of making perfume. Soon, he became the perfumer’s Cyrano, creating popular scents, giving credit to the old perfumer and making him wealthy. Although the perfumer was taking advantage of his talent, Grenouille has a goal that has nothing to do with making money.
Following some sort of a purpose, he left the perfumer, but spent years in a cave to get away from the stench of humanity. He returned to humanity when he realized that he has no body scent. Although he wore the same clothing for 7 years living in the cave, his clothing contained none of his body scent. The shock of realizing that is what caused him to be rejected and unloved by society, he returns where he is taken in by the Marquis who made him civilized. To fit in with others, he used his perfumery skill to create a smell for himself out of cat shit, cheese and vinegar, the smell that helps him blend in with his fellow man. But it is not enough that he no longer stands out because of his lack of smell.
One day, Grenouille sniffed a most wonderful smell, a smell that brings out the pleasant feeling of beauty. This defined his purpose in life. The tic then steals the scent of its host. He murdered the young girl he scented in order to capture her essence. Later, he detected a young girl with the most intoxicating smell, a smell that brings out a feeling of love, lust and devotion. She is two years before the full bloom of her scent. Grenouille at last found his true calling, to create the best perfume in the world. He wants to create a perfume that brings out a strong feeling of love and devotion. Having been unloved all of his life, he wants to use that perfume to control people with their overpowering feeling of love and desire. While waiting for the girl to mature, he went on a killing spree of virgins to use their scents as under notes for his greatest find when she matures.
This masterful and original plot is executed in a fast and dramatic pace, with a balance of death and decay, and love and lust, all expressed through stench and bouquet.