Thursday, 24 April 2014

Perfume (not an A to Z post)

'Perfume' by Patrick Süskind has been a slightly surreal read. It is one of the books for my TBR Pile Challenge. I read 'The Pigeon' back in October 2010 and was enthralled by it, but I confess this one much less so. It has a similarly socially isolated central character, if anything Grenouille (meaning frog is french, which amused me) is even more of an outcast than Jonathan Noel. 

If you've come across the film of the book I think it follows the story quite well but would be hard put to capture the real essence of the book. The story is not really about murder, the deaths are almost incidental, it is a story about obsession. What it brought to mind most was Joanne Harris, many of who's books are about the delights of the senses. This book is about smells, and large tracts of the story detail the smells that Grenouille encounters in his travels, but there is no sense of delight or relishing of his amazing olfactory abilities and experiences. He takes very little pleasure in anything in life, and seems to accept it that way. Grenouille himself is without an odour, something he seems to blame for his outsider status; people do not acknowledge his existence as a human being, because they are virtually unaware of his presence. The story charts his struggle to create a scent for himself, he wants to smell perfect. For some reason the author kills off every single one of the characters he comes into contact with, maybe it is to emphasise their irrelevance? People come in and out of Grenouille's life, help him or hinder him, use him and exploit him, all the while he is gaining the knowledge he needs to create his desire. The writer is almost as obsessive as Grenouille himself. So the pleasure of the book is in the reading, not so much the story as the indulgence of the senses. What I liked was the celebration of smell and the way it is probably the most undervalued of the human senses, how we don't even notice so many of the smells we encounter, the way smells influence our emotions and our responses to people, things and places. If anything Grenouille is slightly scornful of the way that people cover themselves with artificial smells, because what he aspires to is to smell human. I like that about him, even if there is nothing else to like. 
Long quote now, that I feel captures him, and the book:

"There was a little pile of cat-shit behind the threshold of the door leading out to the courtyard, still quite fresh. He took half a teaspoon of it and placed it together with several drops of vinegar and finely ground salt in a mixing bottle. Under the worktable he found a thumbnail-sized piece of cheese, apparently from one of Runel's lunches. It was already quite old, had begun to decompose, and gave off a biting, pungent odour. From the lid of a sardine tub that stood by the back door of the shop, he scratched off a rancid fishy something-or-other, mixed it with rotten egg and castoreum, ammonia, nutmeg, horn shavings and singed pork rind, finely ground. To this he added a relatively large amount of civet, mixed these ghastly ingredients with alcohol, let it digest and filtered it into a second bottle. The bilge smelled revolting. Its stink was putrid, like a sewer, and if you fanned its vapour just once to mix it with fresh air, it was as if you were standing in Paris on a hot summer day, at the corner of the rue aux Fers and the rue de la Lingerie, where the odours from Les Halles, the Cimetière des Innocents and the overcrowded tenements converged.
On top of this disgusting base, which smelled more like a cadaver than a human being, Grenouille spread a layer of fresh oily scents: peppermint, lavender, turpentine, lime, eucalyptus, which he then simultaneously disguised and tamed with the pleasant bouquet of fine floral oils - geranium, rose, orange blossom and jasmine. After a second dilution with alcohol and a splash of vinegar there was nothing left of the disgusting base odour on which the mixture was built. The latent stench lay lost and unnoticeable under the fresh ingredients; the nauseous part, pampered by the scent of flowers, had become almost interesting; and, strangely enough, there was not putrefaction left in the smell, not the least. On the contrary, the perfume seemed to exhale the robust, vivacious scent of life." (p.155-6)

U is for Unleashed

King Mygor looked down from the ramparts, across the field, to the gathered army of the Lachnar. It was an awe inspiring sight. Mygor was not a man to experience terror, but if he had been his guts would have burned in anticipation what would come to pass. They had been there three weeks and the land around was scorched and desolate. Villages in their path had been wiped clear and Mygor knew the fate that awaited those who had taken refuge if his plan failed. 
He descended the tower and entered the great hall. A dozen children were playing with a huge dragon, some hanging from its tail and screaming in delight at being tossed around, others sitting on its back and cheering excitedly. At the sight of him Oltoth came lumbering over and lowered his smoky snout into Mygor's hand and nuzzled while the king scratched his throat bringing forth a tiny spew of flame, more purr than roar. This docile creature would never be their saviour he knew, it would be science not magic that would prevail; the Lachnar would never even know what killed them.
"Everything is ready, Your Majesty," said a cloaked man, approaching and handing him a delicate flask. 
Mygor turned it over in his hand and smiled.
Down in the camp below two men on watch saw the vessel fly out from the castle, they observed its trajectory across and down. One turned and called out a warning. It landed beside a fire, shattering, and the men around jumped up. 
"What manner of weapon is this?" said one of them, picking up a piece of the glass and showing it to the others, laughing scornfully. The smile was wiped from his lips as thick foam bubbled from his throat. He fell to his knees, clutching at the tunic of his friend but he was dead before his face hit the earth. Panic spread before the plague, but not fast enough to save any of them. By morning the battle was over.

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

T is for Truancy

Wiki commons
"I'm not going, someone will see us, what if we get caught?" Dylan peered through the mesh and across the wide open space.
"Then stay here and keep watch," Saffron replied scornfully. "I want to see what the real world is like."
She scrambled through the hole in the fence and skirted the field, trying to keep out of sight. Her heart pounded as she approached the buildings but no one seemed to be about, in fact an eerie hush hung over the whole place. She peered into one of the windows. The people inside sat at small tables in rows, heads bent over, while someone at the front of the room walked back and forth, and occasionally wrote something on a large board. She watched in curious fascination. What were they doing, and why? No one spoke, or moved. One of the boys glanced up from his writing and saw her, she smiled and waved. Without warning the person at the front crossed the room in a few strides and threw open the window.
"What are you doing out there?" he demanded. "Why are you not in class? Where's your uniform?"
She stumbled backwards dumbfounded, then turned and fled.

(Truancy for hippy home educators:-)

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Countdown to the Read-a-thon (not an A to Z post)

Saturday 26th of April will bring us to the biannual Dewey's Read-a-Thon, starting on this blog some time after 1pm (or whenever I manage to get home from work) and continuing until 1pm on Sunday 27th. There is still time to sign up and join in, or just join in without signing up, I don't think it matters, it's the reading that's important. Monkey and I have this nice pile of books to choose from, or any other random books that come our way in the intervening days (though I am nearly up to my borrow limit at the library). I am really looking forward to 'The Martian' by Andy Weir that I read about just the other day and ordered specially. 'The Hobbit' Monkey and I have been reading on and off for a couple of years and hope to get through a couple more pages, and the Caitlin Moran 'How to be a woman' I bought for Tish for Christmas and is there for a bit of light relief. 

This year we will be hosting a 'mini challenge' at the unearthly hour of 7am (or some time in the middle of the night if you are visiting from across the pond), so please do drop by and participate (there will be an announcement on the official site) - no spoilers yet, you will have to wait and see, but there will be a prize! 
The only thing left to do is bake the cake ... it's not a proper read-a-thon without cake.

S is for Shallow

She slipped off her sandals and carried them across the last stretch of damp sand down to the edge of the water. The tide appeared to be neither coming nor going; sunlight sparkled on the surface and the tiniest of wavelets lapped over her toes, chilling them deliciously. The clear water at her feet faded gradually to a deep turquoise that merged with the sky at some almost imperceptible point on the horizon. Tendrils of seaweed washed gently to and fro in the current. She stepped out until the water covered her feet, the salt prickling her skin. There was no need to go any deeper, even ankle deep it was still the ocean.

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Monday, 21 April 2014

R is for Rambunctious

"I can see the sea," Annie squealed. "Lets go faster."
Danny ran behind, down the last slope towards the promenade and then along the sea front. Annie's long hair flew back wildly, pulled loose from her scarf and tossed to and fro in the buffeting wind. A dozen seagulls swooped and called overhead, diving from their perches on the lampposts and circling round to alight on the railing. 
"Whoopee," she called back to him, waving her hands high in the air, her skirt flapping and ballooning around her knees. 
They reached the concrete ramp that led down on to the beach and raced to the bottom. And there they stopped, the wheels jammed firmly in the damp sand. 
Annie's cheeks were flushed and her eyes shone. 
"Sorry, Grandma, I can't push you any closer," said Danny.
"That's ok lovey, we'll just watch the waves from here."

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Q is for Quintuplets

"Yes, five."
"Are you sure?"
The technician turned the monitor so she could see the screen and showed her the tangle of limbs and bodies.
She lay back and closed her eyes for a moment. With a deep sigh she straightened her clothes and climbed down from the bed. Gathering her coat she nodded her thanks and made her way back down the corridor to the waiting room.
"Time to go kids. Tommy, Danny, will you get off that wheelchair, it's not a toy. Gemma, Barney, Suzie, will you put the little ones back in the pushchair. Has the baby been asleep all this time, well that's a miracle? Adam, darling, you have to leave the truck behind for other children to play with. Yes, Penny, your picture is lovely but you'll have to finish it in the car. No Samuel I haven't got a drink. What do you mean Jamie went to look for the cafe? I told you all the wait here. Henry, give your brother back his teddy this instant. Chloe will you get your nose out of that magazine and be a bit more helpful. I'm sorry Ben, I know I promised but I really need to get home. We need to give daddy the good news."

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied today by Tish.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)


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