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5 Books like Perfume: Obsessive Compulsive Reading

Alice Baynton itcherSet in France in the 18th century, Patrick Susskind’s masterpiece ‘Perfume’ is dark and atmospheric, richly detailed, with a unique protagonist. The book’s focus is the landscape of smells that surround us and the nature of obsession. If you have finished ‘Perfume’ and don’t know what to read next, take a look at my list of books like ‘Perfume’ and discover ‘The Last Banquet’, ‘Pure’, ‘The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones’, ‘The Hunger and the Howling of Killian Lone’ and ‘Enduring Love’. ~ Alice Baynton

Obsession

Every person has interests and passions, most of us will even say, in an offhand sort of a way, that we have an obsession. A true obsession, however, is no laughing matter.

‘Perfume’ is one of the most thrilling portraits of an all-consuming obsession that has ever been published. The titles on this list of 5 books like ‘Perfume’ try to capture the essence of single-mindedness, obsession and lust.

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Books Similar to ‘Perfume’…

‘Pure’ (Andrew Miller, 2012)

Image Source: Amazon

This book feels like ‘Perfume’ and smells like perfume due to its focus on the overflowing cemetery and the pervading stench that surrounds it.

Jean-Baptiste is a young engineer charged with demolishing the ‘Les Innocents’ cemetery in central Paris, and moving the bodies, in various states of decay, outside the city to their new resting place. This book is not about a passionate obsession, but about what happens when a person’s life is taken up by one long, impossible task, and how it becomes their whole world.

Similarity Match: 95%
Looks like ‘Perfume’, feels like ‘Perfume’, smells like ‘Perfume’. It is also set in 18th century France, in a Paris on the edge of boiling over. The main difference is that our protagonist is more relatable, more human, less obsessed.

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‘The Last Banquet’ (Jonathan Grimwood, 2013)

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No review of this book is complete without a mention of ‘Perfume’. The protagonist of ‘The Last Banquet’ is Jean-Marie, who we meet as a destitute orphan sitting by the side of the road eating cockroaches. This is not because he is starving, but rather because he is fascinated by taste and wonders what cockroaches will taste like.

His fate changes when he is taken in by a vicomte. As he grows up he rises through French pre-revolutionary society, however all of this political intrigue, social commentary and even his racy sexual exploits take a backseat to his hunt for the perfect flavour.

Similarity Match: 90%
Both set in France, the plots begin within 20 years of each other. Protagonists obsessed with one of the senses (taste). Obsessed with women (in different ways). The main difference is that the narrative lacks the intense darkness of ‘Perfume’ and isn’t as breathtakingly well crafted.

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‘The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones’ (Jack Wolf, 2013)

Image Source: Goodreads

Welcome to the 18th century once again, but this time we are in London and Berkshire.

Tristan Hart is a medical student. Like other characters on this list, he has an obsession. He is fixated, as a doctor, on the subject of pain and how to prevent it during medical procedures. Outside of medicine, he also happens to be a psychopath, fixated on the subject of pain and how to cause it.

This book is a meditation on pain, love, sexuality, and ambition, and how they all weave together.

Similarity Match: 75%
The same 18th century setting and a mentally unstable protagonist with obsessions, but Tristan Hart is privileged, educated and comfortable. The writing in this deliciously dark book is not as delicately crafted and it doesn’t focus on the senses to the same degree.

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If You Like ‘Perfume’, You Will Like…

If you’re a bit sick of hanging out in the 18th century, these two books are set in the more recent past, but still fixate, obsess and lust, and carry the distinct whiff of ‘Perfume’.
‘Enduring Love’ (Ian McEwan, 2004)

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There are many ways this book differs from Patrick Susskind’s masterpiece. It is set in the modern day and revolves around the aftermath of a balloon accident. At first glance, you might not put the two together on a shelf. However, the grim, unsettling core of ‘Enduring Love’ is one man’s dangerous obsession with another.

Jed Parry believes that every curtain twitch and every step made by Joe, the main character, is a hidden message for him. Needless to say, it doesn’t end well.

 
Obsession, obsession, obsession. The theme of this novel fits perfectly hand in hand with ‘Perfume’. In most other respects it is completely different, but in my opinion that makes it the ideal follow-up, to help a reader ‘get over’ ‘Perfume’.

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‘The Hunger and the Howling of Killian Lone’ (Will Storr 2014)

Image Source: Amazon

This relatively unknown novel from world class journalist and non-fiction writer Will Storr is one of my favourite books. I read it in two days, turned back to the first page and read it again straight away.

Killian Lone, our main protagonist, is a loner like Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. His obsession is food, cooking and becoming a world-famous chef.

Food, witchcraft, a frightening look into the abusive world of 80’s fine dining and a swirling, dark, devilish ending. The atmosphere of this book is very different and much more modern than ‘Perfume’, but as an exploration of obsession, this book is a must read.

 
Killian Lone has certain parallels with Grenouille. He doesn’t look like much, he is unusual, a loner, unsympathetic, and abused. Another similarity is the unflinching description, even extending to a horrifying, sickening, detailed account of a ‘palate test’ forced on him by his abusive boss.

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No Laughing Matter

Reading the books on this list means immersing yourself in their disturbed and twisted worlds and following their stories down misty alleyways and into dark cottages. Afterwards you might need to take a warm bath, watch a romantic comedy or go frolicking in a meadow. They will linger in your mind, or on your palate.

Have you recently had a talented writer pull you into a character’s obsessed and unhealthy point of view? Have you read a book that’s assaulted your senses that you’d like to add to this list?

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