Short stories of olfactory experience set in the Lorraine, France

14th January 2018

Parfums by Philippe Claudel, short stories of olfactory experience set in the Lorraine.

Translated by Euan Cameron.

A Catalogue of Remembered Smells

So often the visual and audio responses are the ones that appear in the arts, the superior ones, but just as effective, though more personal, is the sense of smell. The human sense of smell can often permeate deeply into the human unconscious brain, more so than the other two. And it is this underrated and under-explored sense of smell around which the author sets his stories.

Short stories of olfactory experience set in the Lorraine

Imagine the bucolic landscape scenes depicted by artist Claude Gellée, known as Lorrain – their pinks and greens, with warm and gentle rolling scenes. The author waxes lyrical about his work in the opening story Acacia. Actually, the artist was inspired by the colours of Italy, but he was born in Lorraine, so perhaps the painter gained his artistic inspiration and colouring from the lay of the land in which he was born… The author’s aim, though, is to set the scene against which his stories come to life, a pastoral, gentle setting of great beauty….

Many of the very short chapters (as short as the time it takes to have a quick sniff) are childhood reminiscences of – oftentimes – a carefree existence. Hunting and skinning rabbits, the smell of the garlic as the canine-like teeth of each clove land in the frying pan and sizzle away. Early youthful encounters with the opposite sex not only have their sexual smells but also there is reminiscence of those pungent aromas of the environment. It is all together a very sensual collection of stories.

The potency of individual aromas is given much thoughtful description, set in a context, from freshly laundered bedding, coffee roasting, hay, to the smell of the local vegetable shop whose owner dies. Death too has its own peculiar smell and Sun Tan Lotion gets a whole chapter to itself. As smells change so does life, smell is bound into the very fabric of human existence.

Overall this is a wise and thoughtful collection of stories, beautifully translated by Euan Cameron. The writing is such that you can lose yourself in the words and potent imagery. A wonderful, esoteric read.

I will leave you with an excerpt from Travels, the last story in the collection, which seem so pertinent for TripFiction:

“…travelling is about losing yourself, ridding yourself of the familiar so as to be born anew, without any reference points, and allowing your senses to become acquainted with the landscape. To smell, as never before, the breath of new lands. And thus, over the years, I have frequently got lost, and happily so, in the markets of Istanbul, of Marrakesh, of Cairo, Aswan, Taipei, Huaráz, Shanghai, Denpaser, Bandung, Lima, Saigon, Cho Lon, of Hué or Hanoi, Malatya, Helsinki, Mérida…”

Tina for the Tripfiction Team

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  1. User: Annabel

    Posted on: 14/01/2018 at 11:20 am

    This is such an evocative memoir, and the translation was beautifully done.


    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 14/01/2018 at 1:27 pm

      Absolutely agree, a little gem that has been sitting for far too long on the TBR pile….


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