Jitterbug perfume

by Tom Robbins

Hardcover, 1984





New York : Bantam Books, 1984.


Jitterbug Perfume is an epic. Which is to say, it begins in the forests of ancient Bohemia and doesn’t conclude until nine o’clock tonight (Paris time). It is a saga, as well. A saga must have a hero, and the hero of this one is a janitor with a missing bottle. The bottle is blue, very, very old, and embossed with the image of a goat-horned god. If the liquid in the bottle actually is the secret essence of the universe, as some folks seem to think, it had better be discovered soon because it is leaking and there is only a drop or two left.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lovefroud
I have a tattoo representing this book. I love it that much and it is a staple in my reading, whenever I am inbetween books I reach over and there it is, like a warm dog. Sometimes I just read parts of it, sometimes the whole thing.
I suggest this to anyone I believe needs it, doesn't need it or anywhere inbetween. The other reviews summarize the book well so I thought I would just lament in my review of the need for everyone everywhere to read it just once.… (more)
LibraryThing member anterastilis
I've finally read Jitterbug Perfume, at the suggestion of Sassylidge. I have to say, I really enjoyed it. The characterization was incredible: Alobar, the doomed king of a small tribe in 11th century central Europe; Wren, his clever favorite wife; Pan, a really stinky God; Kudra, a perfumer who escapes death on her husbands funeral pyre; Dr. Dannyboy and the eternal-life obsessed members of the Last Laugh Society; Madame and V’lu, perfumers in New Orleans; Priscilla, the genius waitress and the members of the Daughters of the Daily Special, a group of women in Seattle who have college degrees but are supporting themselves as waitresses until they get a chance to pursue their calling. They are all drawn together by perfume, the idea of eternal life, and lots and lots of beets.

This book was a delight to read. It was light and airy in tone – it almost felt like I was being told a story. He’s really got a handle on how to use metaphors without being corny…even though he’s got kind of a wacky sense of humor. I laughed out loud in several parts and got misty-eyed in others. He writes as someone who is completely comfortable with the English language and, although he is sometimes writing about complicated, heavy stuff – it never seems preachy or over my head.

The different, converging storylines in this book could have been split up and expanded upon for several individual books. (I was glad to hear the Daughters of the Daily Special appears in a few more of his novels.) But it’s the way that all of these characters and stories eventually fit together that makes this a great read.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
The book begins: The beet is the most intense of vegetables. It riffs off that in a short prologue, "Today's Special" promising a magical, sensuous and sensory-laden book. The prose is lush without being purple. It's full of puns, world play, off-"beet" humor, over-the-top metaphors, raunchy sexuality and a melange of thought-provoking ideas, weaving four narrative strands in a exuberant omniscient narrative.

Three of those strands are set in the present day. There's Priscilla in Seattle, a waitress who spends her spare time in her home chemistry laboratory trying to recreate a very special perfume. In New Orleans Lily Devalier and her assistant V'Lu Jackson are trying to perfect a jasmine scent. In Paris cousins Claude and Marcel LeFever are the brains and the nose of a commercial perfume business. All of them are receiving mysterious gifts of beet plants. Then we move to tenth century Bohemia where we meet King Alobar--a man with two dreams--to overcome death, and to be the most complete individual possible. He will eventually travel east and meet his Indian wife Kudra and together they'd seek immortality among holy Tibetan lamas and with the Great God Pan. Over the course of the book these four strands come together and we understand how they're connected.

Among other things they're connected by the world of perfume, scent. I couldn't help but be reminded of Patrick Suskind's Perfume where the art of perfumery is also central and which also inhabits that territory between magical realism and fantasy. Except Jitterbug Perfume is the opposite in feel--light, not dark. Fantasy--but not horror. And dealing with love and the search for immortality, not dealing with a monstrous serial killer.

So, so far, so good. Except about half way through, around page 150, an anvil came whizzing by me and came near to concussing me. An Anti-reason, Anti-science, Spirit-of-the-Sixties, Pantheistic, Partisan-politics shaped anvil I could hear clanking against the rocks the rest of the way down. By page 250, I was skimming--and skimming rather than stopping only because I still wanted to know what happened to Alobar and Kudra.

You know, I've managed to love books that had pretty heavy polemics, such as books by Ayn Rand, CS Lewis, Dante Alighieri, Philip Pullman... But say what you will about those authors, at least they fly their ideological flags high pretty much from the beginning. I think I got so annoyed because here in the first half I was having so much fun with a Story and then kerplunk Message. Also? Wiggs "Marty-Stu-Old-Men-Do-It-Better" Dannyboy? Most annoying character ever.

At least to me. I have a friend whose literary tastes I respect who counts this book a favorite. I certainly think it's a book worth trying. My rating of three stars doesn't indicate a middle of the road reaction to the book. It's rated that way because I was absolutely adoring this book until half-way through--but then... So this is an average of five stars for the first part (Amazing!) and one star for the second half (Didn't Like It).
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LibraryThing member Snakeshands
This is a bit of a grudging 5 stars; as many have mentioned, any Robbins book has creepy stuff about gender roles, and his style does bend over backwards so far just to get in another tortuous metaphor that even in his very best work, like this one, you get tired sometimes.But this book is so full of life and joy, and poignancy across a story of millennia, that here, at least, I forgive him for it. It's a comic epic, like most of Robbins' work, but here it's balanced with some real thinking about where the mystery of life goes if you don't watch yourself, and some often hilarious tweaks on spirituality/religion/etc. And when he's not just making metaphors for the hell of it, he comes out with these intense sensory descriptions that you feel viscerally, not just with your head. Reminds me a little of Ishmael Reed's weirdo Sun Ra myth-comedy "Mumbo Jumbo" (another great book) or Saul Bellow's "Henderson the Rain King", a book just as sloppy-drunk with its love of life. But more than anything it's a book that seduces you with its own ridiculous logic until you can't help but see things its way for a while after you finish. IF you want an introduction to Robbins, this is it. It's not watered down in the least, but it works for that because you aren't bogged down by his idiosyncrasies quite as strongly as in his other books--not because they're not there, but because this thing has so much _else_ to offer.And I craved beets for WEEKS after reading this thing.… (more)
LibraryThing member berbels
Someone close to me once said that the first Robbins book you read will be your favorite- this is certainly true for me. I can't keep it on the shelf because I keep giving it away to people who "need" it. I even eat beets now.
LibraryThing member jackichan
Jitterbug Perfume. Some aspects I loved and some I loathed. The plot, story, characters and random tidbits of information made it a worthwhile read. The constant bombardment of sex, all kinds of sex, seemed obsessive and honestly unnecessary.
LibraryThing member bardsfingertips
This was a fun little epic full of great mixed metaphors and beautiful ghastliness. My only disappointment is that, unlike Even Cowgirls get the Blues (which was chalk full of), it lacks the philosophical points up until the very last thirty or so pages. Other than that, it was all splendid and a great read that entertained me fully.… (more)
LibraryThing member vjsweeley
I have been a huge fan of this book for many years and have read it multiple times. It is such a strange and interesting story. I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in fantasy.
LibraryThing member saracuse9
This book was dense, witty and interesting. I really enjoyed Tom Robbins' sense of humor. There were too many good one-liners to count, though my favorite was "She would have been beside herself, but there was not enough room at the table."

The way the story tied together was really interesting...who would have thought a waitress, a 1000 year old man, a perfumer and New Orleans had anything in common?… (more)
LibraryThing member briandarvell
This was my first time reading anything by Robbins. Went into the novel not knowing what to expect. I found the first half of the novel rather confusing and strange but then once things started to wrap into each other I started to appreciate how good the book was. Robbins has amazing descriptions and a clearly unique writing style. I enjoyed Jitterbug Perfume very much and now definitely want to read another of this author's novels.… (more)
LibraryThing member VVilliam
A genius book about immortality and perfume. Robbins is simply incredible throughout most of the book, giving brillant prose and insight onto everyday occurrences like beets and big picture ideas like war. The book does seem to lag in the later half, but that may just be because I was so blown away by the first half. A very fun, sexy, insightful read. I'll definitely be reading more by Robbins.… (more)
LibraryThing member Lukerik
If you're looking for proof that pagans have more fun then this is the book for you.

The idea is that after you're born you get to do pretty much what you like for a while but then you get killed (a bit like real life really, now I think about it), but you don't have to be killed if you don't want to be... and if you have an almost fanatical devotion to the beetroot (no, really!).

I liked the way it moves along pretty normally and then something crazy will happen. My favourite bit is when Alobar bumps into the god Pan and they repair to a grove and spend the afternoon debauching nymphs.

Great stuff!
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LibraryThing member ValSmith
My favorite of Tom Robbins' quirky works, a fascinating look at perfumery, immortality, sex, and how folks interconnect over time. A wonderful novel, worth reading over and over.
LibraryThing member anglophile65
One of my top 10 favourite books of all time. Want to read again to capture that je ne sais que feeling I had reading it for the first time.
LibraryThing member Tanya-dogearedcopy
Alobar, a Bohemian tribal king from the 11th century, is fated to die; but not if he has anything to say about it! His search to relegate death as an option, as opposed to a certainty, is the baseline plot of this story. An absurdist novel with fantastical elements, vulgar sexual references, and didactic passages streamed directly from the author's frenzied mind, TR is something of an acquired taste. While not for everyone, his clever simile-riven prose would appeal to others.… (more)
LibraryThing member becahr
We meet a perfume maker and seller and her helper in New Orleans, a waitress in Seattle, and cousins in Paris who run a large successful perfume business, and a King (Alobar)of rural Bohemia at about the time Christianity was first becoming a religion.

We follow the King as he escapes the customary rules of death in his kingdom, as he meets Pan, and eventually his life partner, Kudra. Together they learn from the bandaloop caves (though the bandaloop are not visible) practices that help them keep from aging. Air: Breathing-stress reliever, Water: cold-hot-cold bathing, earth: ate small amounts of food at a time and fasted 5 days a month, Fire: sex

they have to keep moving about, or their neighbors become suspicious of them as they don't show age.

1,0000 year old Alobar says: Live by the heart if you would live forever. (toast) You can count on change. even now, I'm curious about what's going to happen next. make perfume, make it well. breathe properly, stay curious, and eat your beets.
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LibraryThing member Voracious_Reader
Jitterbug was titillating. Never having read any of Robbins books before I have to admit I have not been a fan of the contemporary novel. Characters in them often seem bored with themselves and I'm left wondering: "If your character is bored with himself and you sound bored with your character, why should I be interested?" This novel, though, is different. Personally, portions of it were an affront to my sense of morality; yet, I realized "Erleichda, Erleichda" was meant for me too. You'll have to read the book to know what that means. (Robbins doesn't appear to be a fan of Christianity). I am; however, one can't fail to appreciate the completeness of what Robbins creates. It's nice to read something with an actual point of view. His characters operate outside the bounds of morality--that's the point. "The universe does not have laws. It has habits. And habits can be broken." There could be too much of a good thing in reading his novels one after the other, but I will return to Robbins in due time.… (more)
LibraryThing member sushicat
There are four strains of story told in parallel, which in the beginning don't seem to be related at all: Alobar is king in an ancient European land, Madame Duvalier has a small perfume shop in New Orleans, Priscilla is a waitress in Seattle and the LeFever cousins head a perfume imperium in Paris. In the end it all comes together seamlessly around a very special scent. The journey covers such topics as immortality, death, what makes a life worth living, the impact of scent. This sounds boring? Not at all: It is well wrapped in surprising twists and turns, and full of puns and word plays.

Whimsical, entertaining, comical, philosophical - this was a very enjoyable read, which I embarked on with no clue where it would take me. It had me a bit confused at first, but thoroughly hooked throughout and with a smile on my face. I was reading very slowly, in short bits - I did not want it to end!

I definitely will be reading more of his books.
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LibraryThing member NinjaBitch
My first Tom Robbins and absolutely the most enjoyable book I've read to date (2008).

I love the musings about life and death, very close to my sentiments. There are so many great quotes from this book I loved it!

I hope all his books are this delightful.
LibraryThing member karenbecherer
This was the second Tom Robbins book I read and by far my favorite (I kind of wish I'd read it later, so that I wouldn't have such high expectations for all the others). In classic Robbins style it's got a good mix of mythology, romance, humor, and eccentricity, but I thought the story was more interesting than his other books and the characters much more likable. I've found some of his other books harder to finish because I don't care that much about the fates of the characters; this was not the case with Jitterbug Perfume. The agony of true love separated by time/space/metaphysical properties kept me reading in hopes that they would somehow find one another again. Also, on a side note, this book made me try beets for the first time, and I found them to be delicious. :)… (more)
LibraryThing member Lisa2013
The library gave me a musty, beat up hardcover edition with a missing dust cover. I’m so visually oriented that in order to better enjoy the book I printed out pictures of both the hardcover and a paperback cover too.

I really struggled while reading this book and it took me forever to read it.

I enjoyed the main love story and liked the parts that take place in ancient Bohemia much better than most of the modern era portions.

While I was reading I felt as though I was reading a series of different stories. I felt that the plot disintegrated toward the end as the author seemed to go from writing a speculative fiction novel to a combination of philosophy, science, political, and health/longevity treatise, but not in a particularly interesting or compelling manner, or with enough accuracy either. The very end did bring all the parts together, and I suspected that it would. I think that the author tried to do too much with this novel; it was as though he was working out for himself some of the mysteries of life, but not in a way that entertained or enlightened me. Parts were brilliant but for me the whole was not.

I did find interesting the main theme of avoiding death, of the search for immortality. Immortality, perfume/smell/odor, and beets, yes beets, are the main subject matter of this novel. The god Pan makes an interesting appearance.

However, I found it long and rambling and at times irritating and annoying. It was a strange book. It’s hard for me to evaluate it given what was going on in my life while I was reading it. At another time I might have appreciated it more or been even more peeved by what I consider its flaws.

I do think it can make a good book club selection though, and I did read it for my real world book club; there’s some interesting material for discussion, especially regarding the ramifications of immortality.

Edited a day later: I just downgraded this book a star. Despite moments of brilliance and many interesting parts, at best it was just an ok book for me. I struggled through it and wouldn't have finished it had it not been for my book club. While I liked the author's ambition, I didn't really like the book enough to give it 3 stars. I couldn't even be bothered to write a long, thoughtful review because I didn't want to extend the experience.
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LibraryThing member .Monkey.
I need to reread this before I can give it a real review. All I can say is that I was enthralled, a bit appalled, and a lot delighted. Which is pretty much Tom Robbins in a nutshell. Which is why he is probably my number 1 favorite author.
LibraryThing member jayde1599
Synopsis: The book has four distinct storylines. It starts with Alobar, an 11th century king who is about to be killed because he is too old. He escapes, and begins his quest for immortality. Alobar meets the immortal god Pan, who is slowly fading with the spread of Christianity. He then meets his reincarnated wife Wren in the form of a beautiful girl named Kudra. They marry and discover the Bandaloop practices for staying young.

In Seattle, Priscilla is an intelligent waitress looking for the perfect taco. She is also a perfume maker trying to discover the base to the next best perfume.

In New Orleans, Madame and V'lu are perfumers looking for a mysterious bottle.

In Paris, we meet two cousins who also run a successful perfume business, Claude and "Bunny" who has an exceptional sense of smell.

All of the characters are intertwined by perfume and scent. And beets. An unknown person is leaving them beets during the night.

Pros & Cons: For the first 80 pages or so, in typical Robbins style, I had no clue what the book was about. Robbins writes in a way that is captivating and seductive enough that, although I am completely bewildered, I am not bored. I am glad that this was not my first experience with a Robbins book because I may not have fully enjoyed the ride that he sends a reader on. It was thoroughly enjoyable by I liked Still Life with a Woodpecker better.
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LibraryThing member sturlington
This was a reread of an old favorite and although this time around, I didn’t find the characters as compelling or the story as tightly woven as the first time, I was still completely charmed by the idea of achieving immortality simply by breaking the bad habit of growing old and dying. Why not? And the story’s central message—just lighten up already—is one that will always ring true.… (more)
LibraryThing member tulikangaroo
Tom Robbins is like Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett with ADHD. Though it took me awhile to get into his groove, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. The world is his oyster, er... beet. So clever. I would give it 5 stars, but I wish the ending had been stronger... such a raucous, raunchy book should have gone out with a bang.

"Louisiana in September was like an obscene phone call from nature. The air - moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh - felt as if it were being exhaled into one's face. Sometimes it even sounded like heavy breathing. Honeysuckle, swamp flowers, magnolia, and the mystery smell of the river scented the atmosphere, amplifying the intrusion of organic sleaze. It was aphrodisiac and repressive, soft and violent at the same time. In New Orleans, in the French Quarter, miles from the barking lungs of alligators, the air maintained this quality of breath, although here it acquired a tinge of halitosis, due to fumes expelled by tourist buses, trucks delivering Dixie beer, and, on Decatur Street, a mass-transit motor coach named Desire."

"The minute you land in New Orleans, something wet and dark leaps on you and starts humping you like a swamp dog in heat, and the only way to get that aspect of New Orleans off you is to eat it off. That means beignets and crayfish bisque and jambalaya, it means shrimp remoulade, pecan pie, and red beans with rice, it means elegant pompano au papillote, funky file z'herbes, and raw oysters by the dozen, it means grillades for breakfast, a po'boy with chowchow at bedtime, and tubs of gumbo in between. It is not unusual for a visitor to gain fifteen pounds in a week - yet the alternative is a whole lot worse. If you don't eat day and night, if you don't constantly funnel the indigenous flavors into your bloodstream, then the mystery beast will go right on humping you, and you will feel its sordid presence rubbing against you long after you have left town. In fact, like a sex offender, it can leave permanent psychological scars."
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