By Emily Oliver, Aoifke Madeleine and Imogen Marchant.
Coming to university can be incredibly daunting. As part of Books’ new series The Book Pharmacy, three contributors, including our editor, offer prescriptions to soothe, escape from and counterbalance the fears of starting university.
Emily Oliver – Patrick Süskind’s Perfume.
Condition: Apathy, lethargy, feeling overwhelmed.
Reflecting on his craft in On Writing, Stephen King says ‘books are a uniquely portable kind of magic.’ Before you are repulsed by the horror master’s sickly sweet self-gratification, it must be clarified that he is referring to their ability to offer an instant escape hatch from reality. In the inevitable chaos of a new academic year both freshers and old timers alike are united in their occasional need for escape. Patrick Süskind’s Perfume is a deeply immersive and enchanting fable of obsession, desire and death; it offers the perfect escapism from 9ams and regrettable overindulgences in the pub. We follow Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an orphan in eighteenth century France, born with an extraordinary sense of smell. His unique ability to distinguish between the scents around him and experience them in a compelling hyper sensory manner leads him to become a perfumer, before his life takes a decidedly darker turn. The narrative blends fantasy with fact, the fantastical depiction of his superhuman ability to smell grounded in the socio-historical instances of the plot and naturalistic descriptions of the environment and perfume production.
The prose of the novel is influenced by Grenouille’s perception of the world; he understands smell more than sight. The rich sensory language links typically visual cognitive activities with smell, leading to bewitching description and truly unique imagery. The tale is intoxicating, often dark but always entertaining. Like any good story, it promises to suck you in and spit you out again.
Aoifke Madeleine – Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women:
Condition: Loneliness, homesickness.
A book that I would recommend to all freshers is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I didn’t read it in Freshers’ Week, but instead read it throughout the Epiphany Term of my first year after buying a copy that Christmas. Sometimes, you just need a comfort book that will get you through times of loneliness. Little Women is one of the warmest novels I’ve ever read – it feels like a hug from an old friend – and during Freshers’ Week, I know it would have been my solace for my overwhelmed and very homesick self. In Epiphany, I would read a chapter most nights. It’s beautifully written, fast-paced, and the ultimate novel about ‘growing up’, which, when moving to university, most of us do! Overall, I would highly recommend Little Women for this reason. It’s grounding and so soothing – it’ll nurse your freshers’ flu and calm those first-year nerves within a few pages.
Imogen Marchant, Books Editor – P.G. Wodehouse’s The Mating Season:
Condition: Regret, feeling in need of comfort.
Oh, Bertie! Whatever situation you’ve found yourself in, it is probably not as sticky as those experienced by a certain Bertram Wilberforce Wooster. Even if you are about to be put up in front of a judge for stealing a policeman’s helmet, or to walk down the aisle to yet another less-than-suitable fiancée, at least Bertie will be there with you. P. G. Wodehouse is the master of escapist comedy, and this particular selection from the Jeeves and Wooster series is the perfect antidote to the often overwhelming chaos of Freshers’ Week. Time and time again, I have found solace in the craftsmanship of Wodehouse’s prose, the hilarity of his dialogue and the unshakeable knowledge that, in this world at least, everything will eventually be alright. If Bertie can escape the clutches of Madeline Bassett, you can get through your hangover.
Image: Imogen Marchant