In eighteenth century Paris, when Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (our main character) was born, they mention the Cimetiere de Innocents which was abandoned and upon which the market was erected. I found this to be an odd sentiment and looked up the translated “Holy Innocent’s Cemetery” which was indeed the largest and oldest cemetery in Paris; it was mainly used for mass graves for unclaimed bodies. So, I wondered what happened to such deceased now, but during my research stumbled upon a database for unclaimed deceased. (

It made me cry.


In the book death was simply death: Grenouille’s mother’s four previously stillborn children were just, “bloody meat”, and in her first miracle of life is casually, “decapitated at the place de Greve”. But now I thought, cloaked in naivety, that we see one another as people in life and death, in struggle and flourish. Death seemed to have a different weight now, but as I scrolled through the names on the database I realized it is still only significant to those directly effected


“…Gary Rennicks age 51


Billy Edwards age 82


Santiago age 18


Linda Sandefur age 36…”

These are people that haven’t been claimed in death, and though I am not a traditionally religious person, I couldn’t help but feel a connection to lists and lists of people, though I know nothing of them. The sudden condemnations made through just the first six chapters of Perfume have already made me aware of how I interact with those around me.


Death is abundant in this novel and the 286 pages of unclaimed people in California made me abruptly face the abundance of unrecognized death now.




2 thoughts on “

  1. Death is encountered differently by the characters in this book. They don’t even seem to take it seriously. The mother is practically entertainment when she is beheaded. No one cares that her other children died, including her. Other children in the home even try to kill Grenouille and think nothing of it. Its crazy how differently we think of death now.

  2. I think that the reason of the lack of empathy is really just the time period. Obviously, the author has not made it difficult to imagine how hard it was to survive back then. With all of the bacteria, disease, and lack of hygiene, death probably wasn’t that big of a deal. It seems to me like the people from this time period all fend for themselves. A survival of the fittest sort of society. Death is more significant today, however, like with the unclaimed bodies that Carolyn mentioned, there may still be those who it does not affect as much. Or perhaps those bodies weren’t claimed because there was no one left to claim them. As horrible as it is, it does sound a little like in Perfume….. No one to really care or look out for you.

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