Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
This is a complex novel with elements of magic realism. The tone is mainly comic though with philosophical underpinnings, connected with the themes of time and mortality, and Robbins seems to have a serious underlying message he wants to convey.
There are several interlocking stories and groups of characters, set in Paris, New Orleans, and Seattle. The characters' lives are linked by perfume; all are involved in some way in making or marketing it. Robbins is playing games here: it isn't evident at first how these apparently unconnected plots will be brought together. This eventually happens thanks to a fourth story line, involving Alobar, a tenth-century Bohemian ex-king who has attained immortality, or at least great longevity, and who is travelling in space and time. He is accompanied by a beautiful Indian widow, Kudra, who has shared his attainment.
Eventually Alobar and Kudra decide to dematerialise themselves in Paris and translocate to 20th-century America, but Alobar loses his nerve at the last minute. Kudra disappears into the ether, and Alobar, broken-hearted, sails to the USA in the hope of finding her there. He is accompanied by the god Pan, whom he had met earlier and who has faded to invisibility as a result of the success of Christianity, though his goatish smell persists. Alobar's arrival in the USA is ultimately what brings all the main characters together.
The story moves along nicely and Robbins's rather jokey narrative style, with the occasional aside, works pretty well. The dialogue also mostly works except when Robbins unwisely allows Pan and his associated nymphs to use the thee–thou forms, which break down badly ("they wouldst"). To some extent the book serves as a vehicle for Robbins to express various philosophical and mystical notions current in West Coast New Age circles, but these are not too obtrusive and don't interrupt the flow of the narrative unduly.
13 February 2010
%T Jitterbug Perfume
%A Robbins, Tom
%I No Exit Press
%C Harpenden, Herts.
%D 1984, 2007
%G ISBN 13:978-1-84243-035-4
%O paperback edition
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