‘Perfume’ by Patrick Süskind (1986)

I have been receiving suggestions to read Perfume for about ten years now, I reckon. Recently it was published as a Penguin Red Classic and I grabbed a cheap copy to add to my huge list of books to read. I actually managed to fit it in on a flight between Brisbane and Cairns a few weeks ago on my way to the ICSV14 conference. That’s right. It was so damned good I devoured the whole thing in one go. To be fair, I read most of it on the flight and then finished it off when I got to the hostel. As far as I can remember, it’s the longest book (296 pages paperback) I’ve read in one sitting.

I loved this book. And for totally different reasons than I often love books. It didn’t contain any characters that I found particularly likeable nor whom I could even empathise with. And the actions of the characters were never noble nor life-affirming. This isn’t one of those books like ‘Peter Camenzind’ (Hermann Hesse, 1904; my thoughts forthcoming when I re-read it one day) where the life of an everyman unfolds before your eyes and connects you with humanity as their character advances spiritually through life. For example. Despite all of this, there is an uplifting catharsis that arises quite unexpectedly (to me), which is quite unique for the genre that — on the surface — this book appears to fall into.

But the world that Süskind creates is simply amazing, and the construction of the narrative is simple and clever. There are no loose ends and no logical gaps in the story. In short, a ‘perfect’ novel. And while I wish I was the kind of person who could untangle the themes within an elucidate them now, I must be content to bask in them. I guess that’s why I’m trying to write here, so that I learn to express my own reactions to things.

I was talking with Toni the other day about the movie that has recently been made on this book. I haven’t heard a single good reaction about the movie, and I’m fascinated by the fact that the movie was even made. The book spends much of its time in a world that can’t really be shown on film, and so while the superficial ‘action’ of the story could obviously be shown, I’m baffled by how the motivation of essentially the only character could be portrayed. Or how someone could even try and approach the problem. So I would really like to see how the book was adapted.

Now, I just spent a couple of minutes reading the reviews at IMDB and the reactions there seem rather good. So that gives me more motivation to actually check it out. Because I do love movies, after all. Stay tuned.


‘Places like this’ by Architecture in Helsinki (2007)

I don’t write much about music, because I don’t really know how to put the words together. Many reviews I read assume that the reader is familiar with the music itself, which isn’t necessary what I expect from a review.

I first became a fan of Architecture in Helsinki after being gifted with their debut album, ‘Fingers crossed’, shortly before seeing them live. This must have been 2003, I think. Until recently, their band had nine musicians who all played different instruments to one degree or another. Their first gig I saw in Adelaide had them crammed onto a tiny stage in the Jade Monkey with many more instruments than band members and having hardly space to move let alone swap instruments halfway through songs. They are certainly an eclectic lot. I really don’t know how to describe their music. Lots of energy and lots of instruments almost chaotically thrown together, with vocals primarily provided (often in falsetto) by their lead Cameron and taken over (and stolen) by partner-in-crime Kelly.

Their first album, which was a sweet, smoothly-produced and catchy number, and some time later, their second album ‘In case we die’ was a much bolder expression of their energetic and unusual sound, I guess. That album was less one that you could stick on as background music but captured better who they were as a band.

Around the same time, they toured Europe and America and I’m guessing become a lot more popular. (Well, Sven-S. Porst likes them at least. That’s my one and only data point for popularity outside Australia!) Since then, they lost two of their musicians who had more of a classical instrument bent, and just released a third album, ‘Places like this’. And it’s my favourite album so far. At a touch over 30 minutes I would like it to be a song or two longer. It continues the trend started in ‘In case we die’ of louder, punchier sounds. Cameron is crooning less falsetto and living it up a bit more. The songs are more catchy, the enthusiasm more unbridled, and the album more consistent. With a solid touring history now they’re much more guitar-based in concert and they’ve never been better.

I love you, Architecture in Helsinki.


Out of practice

When I’m in that state of having nothing to read but not enough motivation to do work, I really need to spend the time writing rather than searching for more reading. For example, I just read in the New Yorker that there olive oil industry is rife with counterfeit oil; it is often cut with sunflower and soya oil (and sometimes treated to mask the flavour of the offending additive) for inevitable greater profits. That makes me wary about oil, I guess. Oh well; in cooking, I can hardly taste the difference anyway.

Now, the New Yorker is great. I bought a paper copy of it in an airport a few weeks ago to gauge whether I prefer it in print to online, and online wins hands down. It’s a whole magazine of current affairs and articles of interest, which can vary from fascinating to completely off-wavelength. Buying the print version gives you a good mix of both. But online, it’s easy to skip the chaff, and this makes it a much more valuable reference. Of course, I’m a huge fan of keeping articles I like in softcopy for future reference, and hardcopy just clutters up a garage in the end.

But undirected reading is hazardous to my time. I’ve hardly got time to do the dishes these days, so why should I spend time reading about how some olive oil isn’t just made from olives? Even worse, RSS readers transform collecting reading material into an imperative task: 45 unread news items! What have I missed? On the other hand, stopping by newyorker.com every week or so can easily be skipped. But my will isn’t strong enough to avoid checking my news in RSS, and I dread avoiding them for a week and coming back with hundreds of items that just might be interesting enough for me sift through the whole lot for.

I’ve cut down a lot recently, you must understand. On a typical day, I’ll only have a few tens, max, of articles to read or links to follow. This takes me less than half an hour, I’d guess, to wade through and discard those that I don’t feel inclined to consume. I haven’t measured it, really.

And back to my first point: I’ve become out of practice in writing here myself, although I have been doing so more on my actual research. (The thesis is very far from complete, however. It’s early days yet. But don’t tell anyone!) The pity is that I really like writing. If I forced myself to write every day, I’d be a lot better at going on at length in an interesting way — and of course my ego thinks I’ve interesting things to say in the first place (although I’d be inclined to disagree on occasion). But my interests can be rather myopic at times, for others at least, and I’d rather not harp on about news that is transitory at best and of dubious interest at worst. (Hey, did you hear there’s new iMacs? They’re cheap and pretty and great! I will probably buy one in a couple of months!)

So here’s to my literary career. Ahem.