This is a delight. I stumbled upon it really attracted by the fact that it was compared to Patrick Suskind’s Perfume and the quality reassurances of it being published by Cannongate Books.
First, let’s deal with the Perfume comparisons. They are easily made and reasonably relevant in that the main protagonist is a collector of the tastes of animals, however it does not have the deeply repulsive motives of Perfume’s Grenuille who is essentially a murderer.
Both novels are episodic and short chapterered, and both set during the French mid 18th century Bourgeois Liberal Revolution. Both chronicle a more or less complete lifetime.
In Grimwood’s oddesey our hero (and he is a hero not a villain) Jean-Marie d’Aumont starts life (1723) as a four year old among minor noble stock before falling into care and emerging, in due course, as an aristocrat. Not the thing to be by the time the novel concludes in 1790.
Grimwood’s style is extremely readable (it’s an absolute page turner) and he’s a great storyteller. He makes the central character entirely likeable as he rolls his sleeves up, works with the proletariat and treats them with considerably more fairness than the vast majority of his aristocratic peers. Meanwhile he pursues his penchant for eating everything from Dung Beetles to Flamingos’ tongues.
Unlike his peers he has a generally faithful approach to marriage but this does not stop him having a series of quite erotic dalliances throughout his lifetime. Like Grenuille, he is intrigued by the essence of women as manifest by their taste and that generally involves exploration of their sexual organs to establish it.
I’m no historian but he creates a strong sense of time and place with a clear unfolding of the build up to the Revolution as the peasantry become more and more unsettled. In one scene he undergoes a death defying chase from a group of angry charbonnieres. It’ll make a great scene in what should be the inevitable movie that comes from it.
Oh, and there’s the milky eyed blind Tiger that becomes d’Aumont best friend and most lotyal companion.
All in all a superb novel that appeals on many levels.