Self-Improvement and Transformation in Patrick Süskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume by Patrick SüskindThis is a disturbing yet magical book. In eighteenth-century France,  Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with an extraordinary sense of smell. People immediately reject the unusual baby, believing him to be the devil, and eventually Grenouille sets about Paris alone in search of scents. He becomes the apprentice of a master perfumer, but this isn’t enough to satisfy his ambition. Grenouille goes on to capture more unusual aromas: that of doorknobs and freshly cut wood, for instance. But one day he is enraptured by the smell of a beautiful young virgin, and his mission to create an “ultimate perfume” begins.

The protagonist is a classic outsider, and there are passages that really resounded with me. Grenouille hides from the world for a passage of the book in order to rest, think and to get to know himself. That’s effectively what I’m doing right now. In order to be ready to go back to uni for my second year, I’m having as much time to read, write and reflect as possible at the moment. My first year of studying was difficult: I struggled with anxiety and didn’t really make any friends, but I’ll cover all of that in a separate post. Here is a particular quote I liked from the novel:

“He had withdrawn solely for his own personal pleasure, only to be near to himself. No longer distracted by anything external, he basked in his own existence and found it splendid.” 

I love how solitude isn’t portrayed as negative at all here. Yes, Grenouille isn’t a model character to follow, but he expresses human needs that are often overlooked. Everyone needs time alone, and those who don’t are often the least aware of their identity. I think we could all benefit from having time alone to think in peace.

Grenouille, right, before his transformation. From 

“He then had them lead in the new Grenouille dressed in a handsome velvet blue coat and silk shirt, rouged, powdered and coiffed; and merely by the way he walked, so erect and with dainty steps and an elegant swing of the hips, by the way he climbed to the dais without anyone’s assistance, bowing deeply and nodding with a smile now to one’s side, now to the other, he silenced every sceptic and critic.”

This really shows how the way you act influences how others perceive you. It’s definitely true that you can fake confidence. I guess you just need the confidence to let go of everything and do so, ironically. When I put on a nice dress and my hair decides to behave, I’m able to do it. By feeling good about myself, my posture straightens and I look relaxed and approachable. I just need to ensure this happens more often.

4 stars

It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at

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