Perfume by Patrick Suskind

★★★★★ (5/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book 

• The odor of humans is always a fleshly odor—that is, a sinful odor. How could an infant, which does not yet know sin even in its dreams, have an odor?

• He was an abomination from the start. He decided in favor of life out of sheer spite and sheer malice.

• He lived encapsulated in himself and waited for better times. He gave the world nothing but his dung—no smile, no cry, no glimmer in the eye, not even his own scent

• With each new day, he would bottle up inside himself the energies of his defiance and contumacy and expend them solely to survive the impending ice age in his ticklike way

• Tough, uncomplaining, inconspicuous, he tended the light of life’s hopes as a very small, but carefully nourished flame

• It was as if he had been born a second time; no, not a second time, the first time, for until now he had merely existed like an animal with a most nebulous self-awareness

• And like all gifted abominations, for whom some external event makes straight the way down into the chaotic vortex of their souls, Grenouille never again departed from what he believed was the direction fate had pointed him

• The second rule is: perfume lives in time; it has its youth, its maturity, and its old age. And only if it gives off a scent equally pleasant at all three different stages of its life, can it be called successful.

• He was once again the old, the young Baldini, as bold and determined as ever to contend with fate—even if contending meant a retreat in this case. And what if it did! There was nothing else to do. These were stupid times, and they left him no choice. God gives good times and bad times, but He does not wish us to bemoan and bewail the bad times, but to prove ourselves men. And He had given His sign

• Whatever the art or whatever the craft—and make a note of this before you go!—talent means next to nothing, while experience, acquired in humility and with hard work, means everything

• The scents he could create at Baldini’s were playthings compared with those he carried within him and that he intended to create one day. But for that, he knew, two indispensable prerequisites must be met. The first was the cloak of middle-class respectability, the status of a journeyman at the least, under the protection of which he could indulge his true passions and follow his true goals unimpeded. The second was the knowledge of the craft itself, the way in which scents were produced, isolated, concentrated, preserved, and thus first made available for higher ends. For Grenouille did indeed possess the best nose in the world, both analytical and visionary, but he did not yet have the ability to make those scents realities.

• The latter had even held out the prospect of a royal patent, truly the best thing that one could hope for, a kind of carte blanche for circumventing all civil and professional restrictions; it meant the end of all business worries and the guarantee of secure, permanent, unassailable prosperity.

• He wanted to empty himself of his innermost being, of nothing less than his innermost being, which he considered more wonderful than anything else the world had to offer

• The setting for these debaucheries was—how could it be otherwise—the innermost empire where he had buried the husks of every odor encountered since birth

• Like a thunderstorm he rolled across these odors that had dared offend his patrician nose. He thrashed at them as hail thrashes a grainfield; like a hurricane, he scattered the rabble and drowned them in a grand purifying deluge of distilled water. And how just was his anger. How great his revenge. Ah! What a sublime moment

• The following day—the marquis was just about to instruct him in the basic poses, gestures, and dance steps he would need for his coming social debut—Grenouille faked a fainting spell and, as if totally exhausted and in imminent danger of suffocation, collapsed onto a sofa.

• Every human being smelled different, no one knew that better than Grenouille, who recognized thousands upon thousands of individual odors and could sniff out the difference of each human being from birth on. And yet—there was a basic perfumatory theme to the odor of humanity, a rather simple one, by the way: a sweaty-oily, sour-cheesy, quite richly repulsive basic theme that clung to all humans equally and above which each individual’s aura hovered only as a small cloud of more refined particularity.

• For people could close their eyes to greatness, to horrors, to beauty, and their ears to melodies or deceiving words. But they could not escape scent. For scent was a brother of breath. Together with breath it entered human beings, who could not defend themselves against it, not if they wanted to live. And scent entered into their very core, went directly to their hearts, and decided for good and all between affection and contempt, disgust and lust, love and hate. He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men.

• The souls of these noblest of blossoms could not be simply ripped from them, they had to be methodically coaxed away.

• These were virtuoso odors, executed as wonderful little trifles that of course no one but he could admire or would ever take note of. He was enchanted by their meaningless perfection; and at no time in his life, either before or after, were there moments of such truly innocent happiness as in those days when he playfully and eagerly set about creating fragrant landscapes, still lifes, and studies of individual objects. For he soon moved on to living subjects.

• the very possession and the loss seemed to him more desirable than a prosaic renunciation of both.

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