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. (http://www.unclaimedpersons.com/Coroner_Public_List.asp)
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.