I'm in the middle of reading Patrick Suskind's novel, Perfume. I borrowed the novel from my sister. 'You're brave,' she said. 'I read that book and had to throw it against the corner of my room, unable to touch it for weeks.' That's a pretty strong reaction to a piece of writing. Which makes me wonder, what makes the novel evoke such strong emotions in people? I think it all comes down to the evil protagonist.
By writing from the point of view of a monster, is Suskind a literary genius or a big creep? Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, protagonist of Perfume, is a murderer with no remorse. And what makes him even more terrifying is he is clever and powerful. As a reader, it completely throws you from your comfort zone and goes against all sensibilities of the literary formula. Showing us the inner thoughts and emotions of someone so inherently evil makes us feel tainted and evil ourselves. Readers love and admire their protagonist. Yes, they may have faults but that's what makes them even more human and acceptable.
Following Grenouille means I'm thrust in to his motives and relating to his point of view, even if his sole desire is to hunt down and kill adolescent virgins. Am I emphathising with a child murderer? YUCK … am I as immoral as my protagonist? Is the only solution to my sick fascination with Grenouille, to chuck the book in the corner of my room and never touch it again? Well, I'm seventy pages from the end and unlike my sister, I can't bear for such a unique and enchanting book to collect dust.
For more evil protagonists try Frankenstein, American Psycho and The Picture of Dorian Gray.