Jitterbug Perfume: a (late) review

So I thought that in the spirit of the sort-of original intention of this blog, that I might as well do an actual book review, eh?

Since I’m in the middle of a project right now, my reading has been put off to the wayside, as I love to read between projects, but if I read while I’m in the middle of writing something, my head gets too full of ideas, and it’s hard for me to differentiate between my own, and others. 

So I’m going to be reviewing a book I read years ago, and to this day I recommend it to anyone interested in reading a million miles off of the beaten track. Really, any of Tom Robbins’ novels will take you that million miles, but my personal favorite has always been Jitterbug PerfumeMaybe that’s because it was the first of his novels that I read. Maybe it’s because that particular writing style is so underutilized, probably because not a lot of people make it work. Robbins does. Here is what the book has to say about itself, a type of synopsis not uncommon for all his novels, and yet so fitting:

Image

“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.”

It’s actually incredibly difficult to try and explain to someone what this book is about. It’s about immortality, and perfume, and a very smelly god. Oh, and beets. I know, right?

The characters are fantastic and memorable, the dialogue is carefully and lovingly crafted. Alobar, I think, is the main protagonist. He is the king of an ancient pagan tribe who, by custom, kill their leader once he begins to show signs of aging, replacing him with a younger, stronger leader. Alobar is not okay with that, and worries once he sees one gray hair. He makes his escape, with his favorite wife, and thus begins a wild ride around the world, through the ages. 

Robbins is a talented writer, who does not fly through writing a book. Nor should one fly through reading any of his books. They are something to take your time with, to savor each clever, hilarious, (and more often than one might think) incredibly wise and insightful word. He is a wizard with metaphors, and this book is full of them. 

“Life is too small a container for certain individuals. Some of them, such as Alobar, huff and puff and try to expand the container. Others, such as Kudra, seek to pry the lid off and hop out.” 
― Tom RobbinsJitterbug Perfume

And:

“I do not fear death. I resent it. Everything must die, apparently, and I am no exception. But I want to be consulted. You know what I mean? Death is impatient and thoughtless. It barges into your room when you are right in the middle of something, and it doesn’t bother to wipe its boots. I have a new passion, my darlings, a passion for being myself, and for being more than previously has been manifested for a single lifetime. I am determined to die at my own convenience. Therefore, I journey to the east, where, I have been told, there are men who have taught death some manners.” 
― Tom RobbinsJitterbug Perfume

And I think art of the brilliance of Robbins’ writing is his masterful use of words. His sentences work into his tapestry of paragraphs, and every word, every thread of thought, used in a way that I can only describe as just-so. In my head I see his stories as comparable to a carefully layered painting, a perfectly timed photograph, a sculpture which takes the viewers breath away. Robbins is an artist with words. 

“There are no such things as synonyms!” he practically shouted. “Deluge is not the same as flood.” 
― Tom RobbinsJitterbug Perfume

 

 

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