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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."