Skip to content

Reading time: Murders and profanity edition

Perfume: The story of a murderer by Patrick Süskind

Another book to add to my expanding collection of “then, no; now, yes” books. I started Perfume a few times over about five years, and each time found it squicky and creepy. I grabbed it when M and I had to rush to Adelaide a couple of weeks ago, and BAM: finished it in two sittings, plus scraps. Amazing book! What the hell was wrong with past-bethini that she couldn’t hack it? Bloody sissy. The creepiness is electric and excellent. Perfume is about Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man born with no smell. Which sounds quirky but becomes highly sinister as he aims to capture and recreate the finest smell: a woman. (A very specific woman, with red hair, just starting puberty.) His perception of smell is demonic: as a child (orphaned) he negotiates his way around the world almost exclusively by it. His memory for smells is encyclopedic, and he breaks down smells into their component threads in an uncanny way, paving the path to becoming Europe’s greatest perfumiers as he becomes obsessed with the art of capturing the scents of things (living and non-living). It’s a fast-moving book with a gripping main character and vivid peripheral characters (a surprising number of whom die as a result of their time spent with Grenouille, although he doesn’t murder them); an extremely sensual book, lush with smells; an exciting book. It made me think about what it means to be human, matters of morality and ambition, and what it means to be loved. A very cool book.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

HOLY CRAP what an awesome book.

Side note: I make a point of only reviewing books I really liked. If I read something and it’s not my cuppatea, I don’t mention it. The internet’s a small place and I don’t need to bug anybody with bad reviews. But it does mean that each edition of “Reading time” will be a celebration! And that I will say “awesome” a lot.

Review continues: AWESOME book. A novel made up of a collection of short pieces exploring the lives of a group of addicts in Edinburgh — mostly heroin, but there’s a few other manifestations of addiction. The voices are amazing: it took me a page or two of reading it out loud in my head (pardon?) to get the hang of the phonetic language, but once I did it was locked in. The stories are narrated by different characters, and after you’ve read the first one done by each character, you have no trouble recognising their voice when it comes around again. The characters are incredible and have stayed in my head as though I met them, if only briefly. The book looks at some pretty heavy stuff: addiction and violence and the life that makes these things not only possible but favourable. The central plot, non-linear and supported by side vignettes along the way, follows Mark Renton, the main character. His pieces explore addiction, morality, and his life as a whole. I don’t know how to start explaining how great this book is: the characters are real, the episodes funny and heartbreaking by turns, the violence terrifying (and real), the atmosphere incredibly realistic. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a happy book. The themes are hard and grim. But it’s amazing. A book that, I think, leaves you thinking in ways and about things you haven’t before.

The Demon-​Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

I miss you, Carl Sagan. What a person to have written such a wonderful book. This is Sagan’s call to critical thought: rightly worried about the greater social impact of decrying critical thinking, he encourages all to adopt an attitude of both skepticism and wonder. Prepared to accept the amazing, astonishing universe, but only accepting what is proved. Sagan points out the ways uncritical thinking is exploited in advertising, politics, pseudoscience and fraud, and warns of the huge political and social dangers that emerge when the general public are unquestioning. But the book is a joyful celebration of everything we — as a species, not a culture — can be when we agree to challenge ideas and, more importantly, allow our own ideas to be challenged. When we commit to solid, evidence-based truth, which includes committing to having your own ideas and beliefs disproved if the evidence is there, amazing insight, and with it, progress, emerge. When we permit criticism, challenge and debate, we are forced to expose ideas to pressures that reveal and debunk, and there is no surer path to truth. Sagan writes beautifully, with joy, compassion, humanity and clarity. His excitement for our amazing and fantastic universe is infectious, and his enthusiasm for rigour, challenge and truth is inspiring.

If you don’t think of yourself as a science-type, you should still read this book. It’s a celebration of — and encouragement towards — our potential as a species, and a stern reminder of what has happened, historically, when we drop the critical thinking ball.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *