Thursday, 17 November 2011

Historical Histrionics

Perfume by Peter Suskind is a dark, squalid tale set during 18th century Paris. Highly acclaimed and subsequently adapted for the screen the book follows the life of an odorless psychotic born into abject poverty whose blessed with a preternatural sense of smell. His gift lifts him from destitution and cultivating his skill in the perfume trade and he begins to plan his own nefarious apotheosis. Suskind's prose is quite light, almost flippant at times but he brings a life and a surprising richness to the olfactory world of Grenouille and his dark, cold hearted character. It's a decent read, if occasionally a little florid, but it spins along to a rather unexpected climax

Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf, like Perfume, follows the life of a wretched, poverty born child from birth to his eventual ascent to great power. Peppe, the diminutive central character is the son of a hawker of gut rot wine in Florence in the 17th century but a chance encounter brings him under the spell of beautiful Gnostic and his life is forever changed. His subsequent education, arrest, circus indenture and eventual escape are all just preludes to his position as adjunct to Pope Leo X and a life of power and luxury. While Perfume hinted at the filth and debauchery of the past the author David Madsen isn't nearly so circumspect with orgies, burnings, prostitution, assasination, torture and rape drawn with such zeal and vigour it's occasionally quite nauseating. Despite all the depravity its a surprisingly touching and humourous novel, with a nice description of the gnostic faith and a swirling, thrilling examination of the decadence that surrounded the Catholic church at the time of the reformation. Well worth your time if you can find it.

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