Joseph Boyden on Patrick Süskind "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" by Patrick Süskind

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind, special edition; Diogenes, 2006
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind, special edition; Diogenes, 2006

I first smelled her in late August of 1992. My original year away from home, I was a lonely graduate student in foreign New Orleans. And I realize now that saying “I smelled her,” sounds far too unattractive, much too gauche for how this particular story continues to unfold. That woman’s scent, though, it haunts me. It drove me to near madness. It drove me to the place in which I find myself today.

Her maiden surname was Büege, her maternal name Weckauff. Germanic lineage, through-and-through. But she looked All-American with her cowboy boots and short skirts, her dizzying scent. An enchantress? All of the men–and women–in our graduate school thought so. And this creature demanded during our first sweat-soaked summer that all of us tongue-lolling dogs read Das Parfum.

We devoured that book over those sweaty months in our sinking city, hungry for and repulsed by Grenouille, the protagonist born with no scent. This man, this beast, was a monster for sure, and in those heated months, all of us sat spellbound by his tale, his desire, his evil. A story told to us from a place so foreign and yet familiar to our own: we smelled the rot of dead dogs, the incomprehensible murders of our fellow citizens on our shared streets, always masked with the perfume of jasmine and magnolia.

Grenouille only finally found the love he sought upon his being devoured by poor strangers. And me? I, too, allowed myself to find solace in being devoured. But now, seventeen years ahead, that enchantress who first introduced me to Das Parfum is my wife. That tale, that world, it sits mostly dormant on our bookshelf, a tinge of musk when we disturb it. But it sits there to remind the two of us of how, during that hot summer so many years ago, we came together over the sharing of a book to create our own special-scented world.

Joseph Boyden  © Camille Gévaudan Joseph Boyden © Camille Gévaudan Joseph Boyden,
Northern Ontario/New Orleans