On Love and Death (Patrick Süskind)

On Love and Death is a slim volume consisting of a single essay by Süskind, who is better known as the author of Perfume. The essay is a throwback to the kind of straightforward, reader-friendly criticism that relies on elegance and style more than ideas and argument. The first third of the book, where Süskind discusses love, is banal and awkward, but when Süskind moves to connect love to death and invokes Kleist’s erotically charged double-suicide pact the book reaches its stride. The final third of the book/essay consists of a meditation on the Orpheus myth that is original and sees Süskind offer a surprising contrast between Orpheus and Jesus (whose religion co-opts elements of the Orpheus myth, such as the reverence for sheepherders), settling in favour of Orpheus. All told, On Love and Death is an uneven but intriguing book, although if you haven’t read any Süskind you should really just pick up Perfume, one of the best and most original novels I’ve read in recent years, a literary horror about a nasty little man gifted with a preternatural sense of smell.

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