Hey guys, I’m going to try to make the review thing a more regular feature – let me know if you like it. Today I’ve got a novel and a fairly new graphic novel up on the table.
by Patrick Suskind
The summary: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is about a serial killer named Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. It is a work of fiction, but it’s written as a biography, following Grenouille from birth onwards. There are two things unique about our murderous protagonist: he has a superhuman sense of smell, and he possesses no smell of his own. It’s this second property that sees a nursemaid reject him – she rails on that he’s unnatural, he has no smell, all babies have smell. He eventually apprentices himself to the master of a tannery, and then to a perfumer. This is where the story really begins. Always a little strange, now madness grips him. The rest of the novel is about the unbelievable up and down spiral of his life as his quest leads him on a quiet murderous rampage.
The review: This book is really good. I don’t honestly know if the movie did it justice, but it’s an easy read – I did it in an evening – and it’s gripping. Before I get into the good stuff, I’ll go ahead and say that there is a period of a chapter or two where the story unfortunately drags – the only thing pulling the story along is the knowledge that something HAS to happen next. That aside … Suskind does a good job of immersing us in the period, and even his writing style helps us to feel that we’re in Grenouille’s era. His understanding of industries – earlier, tanning hides, and later on the perfume industry, lends itself to fascinating passages about how one takes the smells from things. His description of smell, a sense often overlooked in writing, is unparalleled as far as I’m concerned. All of these are merely gems fixed in the crown of the story, though – which is, in all honesty, the story of a very disturbed man and the very unusual way in which he kills people. As important as the how of the murders is the why – it is an undercurrent that slowly rises to the surface and eventually builds into a brilliant climax at the end of the book.
The recommendation: Man, read it. That’s all I can say. Definitely worth it. I will say that people who are squeamish about the weird probably shouldn’t bother, although really they should shelve the squeamishness and read it anyway, haha.
From Vintage, novel, $13.95
by Kazu Kibuishi
The deal: Amulet is a fantasy story in the spirit of Harry Potter, The Golden Compass, The Chronicles of Narnia and all the other fantasy stories of our youth. This book is actually Volume 1 of an ongoing series, with this installment titled The Stonekeeper – I read Yuko’s copy. Thanks Yuko!
The summary: Amulet is the story of Em and Navin, two kids who have recently moved into a new house with their mother. Em stumbles upon her great grandfather’s study, where she finds a mysterious amulet. Soon after, their mother is kidnapped and taken through a door to another world, where – guided by the amulet – the siblings begin their adventure.
The review: There’s a lot to say about Amulet. It is an all-ages book aimed at children, which is why the dark opening was a little jarring. Em witnesses to the death of her father, and I won’t say much more than that – the scene speaks for itself. I actually do have some gripes about the book, but it’s the hesitant sort – mostly, it’s about the stock use of fantasy mores. Looking at movies coming out now and in the past few years, combined with the types of fantasy books that have enjoyed a resurgence, it’s clear what the demographic for this book is. At the same time, the book is aimed largely at children, and the use of the same fantasy mores I’m complaining about is actually rather deft – it’s just not surprising. The story (after the Prologue, which really did throw me – MAN is it tragic) follows a fairly logical chain of events. (I should say that something interesting regarding the nature of the amulet begins to surface towards the end of the book, but you’ll have to find out for yourself – on that point, I do find myself very curious.)
But enough about what I didn’t like – let’s talk about the rest.
The first thing to know about one of Kazu Kibuishi’s books is that you are going to be reading a very pretty book. It’s just a pleasure to look at, especially the use of color (the book is full-color, beautifully so). The second thing to know about Kibuishi is that his creature and machine designs are always fresh, surprising, and inventive. There’s certain things you learn about over the course of the book that, if you flip backwards, you’ll realize were always there – just very well hidden. That attention to detail goes a long way. Also – my complaints about the content of the story aside – the storytelling itself is really very good. The panels flow nicely.
The other thing to note is that this book is published by Scholastic. Scholastic is a very respected publisher, so to see them going out on a limb and printing graphic novels (I noticed their graphic novel imprint is called Graphix) is really nice to see.
The recommendation: It depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re a big fan of the current trend in fantasy, then you don’t want to miss this. Kids with a destiny, monsters, machines, adventure and more – Amulet is pretty packed.
From Scholastic, graphic novel, $9.95