Yesterday I finished Jitterbug Perfume by Tim Robbins.  A friend recommended it last summer and it took me a little over 10 months to get through it.  A page-turner it was not.   I abandoned it at least three times for other books.  That’s not to say it was bad, but it definitely wasn’t fast-paced. 

The story revolves around four groups of characters  (and one god)  flung around the world (New Orleans, Seattle, Paris, and 8th century Bohemia) whose lives intersect at a particular scent. Immortality and the importance of our sense of smell are recurring themes.  A fair bit of science, mythology, philosophy, sex, religion, and perfumery are thrown in the mix.  Robbins has a knack for arranging words in unexpected ways. For that, I like him. His descriptions of New Orleans and Seattle were fabulous .  I also liked the idea of a floral consciousness as opposed to the reptilian and mammilian brains. He went a bit  overboard with the sex. Because Robbins already has a sensual and sometimes gritty style, his frequent musings about sex are overkill. Reading about things being “frosted” gets old fast.  Preoccupation with male bodily fluids aside, I would recommend the book because he presents some neat ideas. 

I’ll leave you with some of my favorite excerpts.

“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.”

“The oyster was an animal worthy of New Orleans, as mysterious and private and beautiful as the city itself.  If one could accept that oysters built their houses out of their lives, one could imagine the same of New Orleans, whose houses were similarly and resolutely shuttered against an outside world that could never be trusted to show proper sensitivity toward the oozing delicacies within.” (This makes me miss New Orleans and fried oysters terribly).

“Every passive mollusk demonstrates the hidden vigor of introversion, the power that is contained in peace.”

“Perfume, fundamentally, is the sexual attractant of flowers, or, in the case of civet and musk, of animals.  Squeezed from the reproductive glands of plants and creatures, perfume is the smell of creation, a sign dramatically delivered to our sense of the Earth’s regenerative powers-a message of hope and a message of pleasure.”

“There is a long-standing argument about whether perfuming is a science or an art.  The argument is irrelevant, for at the higher levels, science and art are the same. There is a point where high science transcends the technologic and enters the poetic, there is a point where high art transcends technique and enters the poetic.” (Take “perfuming”  out of this quote and insert whatever it is one does…the underlying message to take away from here: Practice your poetry.)

“A mask has but one expression, frozen and eternal, yet it is always and ever the essential expression, and to hide one’s telltale flesh behind the external skeleton of the mask is to display the universal identity of the inner being in place of the outer identity that is trasitory and corrupt. The freedom of the masked is not the vulgar political freedom of the successful revolutionary, but the magical freedom of the Divine, beyond politics and beyond success.  A mask, any mask, whether horned like a beast or feathered like an angel, is the face of imortality…in Cognito, we’ll have nothing to hide.”

“Stay curious.  And eat your beets.”