Book Reviews: February 2020 Reads

A literary classic, a children’s novel, an urban fantasy, and an absurdist collection of short stories on love. This month’s book picks are an eclectic lot. But interestingly, they all portray dysfunctional relationships in different ways.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (by Patrick Süskind, 1987)

“And scent entered into their very core, went directly to their hearts, and decided for good and all between affection and contempt, disgust and lust, love and hate. He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men.”

Jean-Baptise Grenouille is different, and hated for it. He is taunted for his ugliness and reviled for his absence of scent. Hate forges evil. He begins an obsession for what he does not have, and in his fervour for scent reveals his desire for affection and acceptance.

In his perversions, we see his twisted idea of love that he never gets to know. So strong is his want that he would do the worst to get it. And that is how a man becomes the Devil at the cruel hands of society, as Patrick Süskind so masterfully narrates in his classic novel. Thank Tom Tykwer’s beautiful film for pointing me to this book.

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? (by Eleanor Updale, 2006)

“A habitual thief, he continued to steal. With no pockets for his booty, he stole ideas and facts, committing to memory every detail of each lecture.”

Upon his release, Prisoner 493 uses all he has learnt behind bars and transforms himself into an upstanding citizen by the name of Montmorency. But his life of crime is not quite over yet. He lives a dangerous double life, committing daring thefts beneath the sewers and enjoying operas above ground in turn.

Eventually, Montmorency gets to exploit his wit for the greater good, a fascinating chapter that comes too late in the game to make an impression. But it is still a fun adventure, if fairly simplistic, narrated wonderfully by Stephen Fry.

Rosemary and Rue (by Seanan McGuire, 2009)

“But sometimes the pieces fall together the way they want to, and you can’t change the story; all you can do is try to ride it out.”

Toby Day is a survivor. Curses, gunshots, and broken ribs couldn’t cripple her, only slowing her down into a crawling pace. Caught between the world of fae and humans, she struggles to stay a compelling lead. Her battle is lost to a rose goblin that appears all of two times and speaks none.

After all, it is hard to root for a heroine who broods about her family, childhood traumas, and the man who turned her into a fish for 14 years, before doing nothing about it. Too many wounds and blackouts later, she stumbles her way into a weak confrontation with more guns than magic. The abuser gets off easier than he should, with a lack of condemnation for all that he has done.

Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory (by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, 2019)

“If you’re using bombs instead of words, that means you’re banking on people giving you what you want out of fear instead of reason. That’s never a good sign.”

These are stories about love, not all of them conventional. There are tales about romantic, platonic, familial, and sometimes, puppy (quite literally) love. It is a game of two, and sometimes three or more. Some hit hard, others bring a genuine smile.

The audio book form is perfect for the assorted collection. There are a few dissonant notes within, though fewer than its bright spots. In this surreal universe of Raphael Bob-Waksberg, anything can happen. And it is mostly wondrous.

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