"Das Parfüm" (The Perfume) is an awe-inspiring piece of writing. Patrick Süskind tells the story of a child born in the 17th Century in Paris, who has an astounding sense of smell, but no scent of his own. The child is ugly and in many ways retarded, but in the field of scents he is a genius.
He becomes apprenticed to a perfumer, and creates scents the like the world has never smelled before. During this time, he discovers the source of the world's most beautiful smell, a young woman, and kills her to own the smell.
He ends his apprenticeship and heads toward Grasse, the capital of the perfume industry, to learn new methods of extracting scents from plants and other things. On the way there, though, he finds a mountain that is completely free of the stench of humanity (which even to common noses smelled pretty terrible at that time), and stays there for several years. He begins having nightmares about suffocating in his own scent, which he discovers is nonexistent. This discovery terrifies him, so he decides to rejoin humanity and make a scent for himself.
He eventually reaches Grasse and becomes apprenticed to a manufacturer of scent oils. Here, he once again finds a scent so marvelous he instantly falls in love, and decides he must own the scent. Once again, it is a beautiful girl whose scent he covets.
His years as a perfumer have taught him much, so he decides to create a perfume from her scent, instead of simply killing her and smelling her like the last one. He sets out to find girls with complementary fragrances, kills them, then extracts their scent to make a base for which her scent can be the headnote.
Terror grips Grasse as beautiful young women keep being found dead, naked, and shorn of their hair, especially since none of the victims have been sexually violated. Finally, his intended victim's father decides to get his daughter to safety away from Grasse. He follows, and kills her as she sleeps in an inn.
He is eventually found, arrested, and condemned to death for the murders. His nightmares have been getting worse, and he fears suffocation by his own lack of scent. When he is brought to his execution, he sprinkles some of the perfume over himself, and the crowd falls under his spell, worshipping him and being driven into a lustful frenzy by the glory of his scent.
He despairs, because although the scent may fool others, it cannot fool him, so he sneaks off back to Paris. He walks into the Cimetiére des Innocents (cemetery of the innocents), where thieves, murderers and prostitutes live, and douses himself with his perfume. They immediately fall in love with him, and, being who they are, want to own a piece of him. Soon he is dismembered and eaten, having brought a little joy to their awful lives.
This is truly a marvelous piece of writing, and leaves a deep impact on the reader. The way Patrick Süskind can bring the world of scents to life, even to those of us with poor noses, is truly awe-inspiring. This man has a sick, sick imagination, and uses it exceedingly well. This is truly one of the best modern pieces of German-language literature I have ever read.