Fine-tuning your bookshelf: ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Süskind


Perfume is an enrapturing novel for every aspiring synaesthete. While long covid muddies olfactory abilities, Süskind’s novel sharpens them; smell is foregrounded as paramount to the sensual pleasure and displeasure its protagonist Grenouille experiences. The book’s hyper-focalisation within one sense lends well to a reader filling in the absence of another, in my case, sound.   

‘Svefn-g-englar’ – Sigur Rós

The son of a fish-woman swiftly executed in the book for infanticide, Grenouille’s moral descent appears a clear-cut case of fatalism. Heavily-reverberated droning is paired with a recurrent twinkling note as Sigur Rós slowly weaves the story of pre-life from womb to birth. This song pairs perfectly with headphones to envelop you in sound and security before Jónsi’s vocals describe the ‘disconnection’ – as between the nascent protagonist and his world.

Heavily-reverberated droning is paired with a recurrent twinkling note as Sigur Rós slowly weaves the story

‘People Are Strange’ – The Doors

Through this song, Jim Morrison crafts the perfect illustration of Grenouille’s relationship with society. Famously penned after Morrison watched a sunset, this song is a poignant realisation that the crux of his depression was “if you’re strange, people are strange.” 

Dress’ – Sylvan Esso

No song is more evocative of those ‘languid women made of dark honey, smooth and sweet and terribly sticky’ as in Perfume. The trap-hop-influenced bass is so profound it almost cracks in your ears, allowing the sanguine vocalisation to seep in. A masterpiece to dance to in the dark (and a brilliant depiction of Grenouille’s corporeal and spiritual enthralment).

Nannou’ – Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin’s greatest skill is breathing life into his music, and Grenouille mirrors this in attempting to replicate perfect existence through perfumery. The ticking and whirring cogs of the music box sampled on the track transport the listener into a prodigious and diligent mind, imbuing them with feverish, maniacal genius.  

Easy’ – Son Lux

Grenouille is an incorrigible creature of the night, his existence punctuated by such Pyrrhic victories as sung about on ‘Easy’. Grenouille’s thirst for inertia echoes that of the vocalist, both of them only disrupted by the occasional abrasive saxophone riff – or some pang of the human condition.

Grenouille’s thirst for inertia echoes that of the vocalist, both of them only disrupted by the occasional abrasive saxophone riff

‘Slip Away’ – Perfume Genius

A song that perfectly encapsulates the heady, intoxicating effects of obsession – the artist’s connection with his namesake is evident in Perfume Genius’ frothing crescendo and the pseudo-deification of the object of his affections. A cinematic anthem for the enamoured, for those clouded as if by heavy scent.  

Half Full Glass of Wine’ – Tame Impala

Wine is the only worldly crutch Grenouille utilises, ‘[drinking] the glass of cool scent down in one draft’. The fuzzy and frenetic guitar makes the perfect signature song for a villain, especially for our oenophile. Significantly varying note lengths and the battle between instruments for dominance serve as a demarcation of his intensity throughout the book, never static. 

Don’t Want To Know if You are Lonely’ – Hüsker Dü

Drums and guitar stifle and suppress the vocals which languish in their distance, like Grenouille’s – at times – from his compulsions and delusions. Hüsker Dü provides a flawlessly mournful characterisation of the pariah with this song, the upbeat energy creating an image of him purposefully stalking paths and pastures across France.

Tear You Apart’ – She Wants Revenge

What do Ryan Murphy and Joaquin Phoenix have in common? They both have a mastery of an urgently crazed sinner paralleled only by Grenouille. 

Rebellion (Lies)’ – Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire’s debut album, like many before and after it, is wrought with disillusioned-and-disenfranchised tenacity. The weariness of the lyrics juxtaposed with squawks of ‘Lies!’ and discordant piano emphasises the transitory nature of Grenouille’s happiness when people get involved, however arduous the journey towards it.

Haupe’ – Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington himself had synaesthesia, whispered at by the syrupy mellifluousness of ‘Haupe’. A rich saxophone croons over piano which is tender in its longing, creating a song equal parts melancholic and romantic – well-suited to the bittersweetness of reward gained through moral depravity and hedonism.

Exit Music (For a Film)’ – Radiohead / ‘That’s Life’ – Frank Sinatra

The pas de deux of forces within Grenouille’s psyche makes it near impossible to decide which song would better soundtrack the closing scene of the film of his life. It is for each reader to decide whether to choose Thom Yorke’s sorrowful calm or Sinatra’s exultant final encore.

Image: Konstantin Dyadyu via Unsplash

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