Patrick Süskind Introduction

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Patrick Süskind 1949-

(Also transliterated as Patrick Sueskind) German novelist, playwright, short story writer, critic, and screenwriter.

The following entry presents an overview of Süskind's career through 2001.

Regarded as one of the wunderkinds of German letters in the 1980s, Süskind debuted onto the German stage with Der Kontrabaß (1981; The Double Bass) which became one of the most popular German plays of the decade. He later achieved international popular and critical acclaim for his first novel Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders (1985; Perfume: The Story of a Murderer), a historical fable about a murderous perfume-maker with a keen sense of smell, who oddly lacks any human odor himself. In his fiction, Süskind typically explores the effects of obsessive behavior upon an individual's life. The dense allusiveness and pastiche style that mark his narrative technique have yielded richly diverse interpretations, including readings that variously study Perfume as a detective story, bildungsroman, and picaresque novel. Although critics have often classified all of Süskind's slender output as definitive contributions to the development of German literary postmodernism, the majority of scholarship has focused on Perfume, which poses for some scholars the dilemma of reconciling the novel's literary merits with its hugely popular appeal.

Biographical Information

Born in 1949, Süskind was raised in Ambach, Germany, the eldest son of Wilhelm Emanuel Süskind, a writer and journalist best known in Germany for his collection of essays on language, Aus dem Worterbuch des Unmenschen. In 1968 Süskind entered the University of Munich to study history. He later completed a master of arts degree at the University of Aix-en-Provence, France, in 1974. While studying in the perfume-producing country of southern France, Süskind traveled and gathered material for what eventually became the novel Perfume. Meanwhile, in the fall of 1981, Süskind's play The Double Bass premiered, establishing him as one of the most popular playwrights of German theatre. Originally conceived as prose piece that was repeatedly rejected for publication, The Double Bass eventually appeared in novella form in 1984. Around the same time, Süskind began collaborating with Helmut Dietl on the hit German television series, Monaco Franze. In late 1984 the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung contracted Süskind to serially publish his first prose work, Perfume. Published in book form the following year, Perfume immediately became a German best-seller and subsequently sold over six million copies worldwide by 1991. Wary of his newfound celebrity, Süskind declined a five-thousand dollar prize for best first novel from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 1986, vowing to never again accept awards for writing. That same year, Süskind resumed his collaboration with Dietl by co-writing the script for another popular television series, Kir Royal, which revolved around the adventures of a titular Munich gossip columnist. In 1987 Süskind published the novella Die Taube (The Pigeon) which, though critically well received, failed to attain the popular success of Perfume. Süskind and Dietl reteamed again in 1996 to write the screenplay for the film Rossini: oder die mörderische Frage, wer mit wem schlief, which follows the careers of a variety of characters in the German film industry as their lives intersect in a Munich restaurant.

Major Works

The principal focus of Süskind's works has been the motivations and behavior of the typical outsider. The Double Bass is a serio-comic monologue that explores a double-bass player's relationship to his instrument, illuminating the instrument's—and the player's—supporting role in the orchestra and in life. The double-bass is alternately characterized as feminine, reliable, discriminated against, and simultaneously protesting and threatening revolution. However, in the end, both the instrument and its player allow themselves to conform and play their allotted secondary...

(The entire section is 1,416 words.)