Jitterbug Perfume

ISBN: 0553348981
ISBN 13: 9780553348989
By: Tom Robbins

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About this book

"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 is actually is the secret essence of the universe, as some folks seem to think, it had better be discovered soon becaused it is leaking and there is only a drop of two left.

Reader's Thoughts


Please note: I read and reviewed this book in 2007; that review is posted here. I have made minor alterations to fit into my current format. The book was a used copy I picked up at Goodwill, and as a result I was not under any obligation to anyone. My opinions and thoughts are my own.Book Synopsis from Paperback Edition: A story beginning in the forests of ancient Bohemia and ending at nine o'clock tonight, Paris time. The hero is a janitor with a missing bottle which is embossed with the image of a goat-horned god and is said to contain the remaining drops of the secret essence of the universe.Brief Overview of my Thoughts: Tom Robbins shows in "Jitterbug Perfume" that he is a master with words and not afraid to play with the English language. His similes and metaphors are always good for a laugh or gape of awe...My Synopsis: This book tells the story of a perfume bottle, a man who started as king, became a peasant, then a wanderer, and finally an immortal. We learn of and follow his journeys, the decline and death of Pan, and various perfumers who are seeking the ultimate fragrance. And let's not forget the unwritten hero of the book - the glorious beet!My Additional Thoughts: The book is full of twists and turns, mostly created by Robbins' creative use of the English language - he bends rules into all sorts of interesting shapes. If you are a fan of Robbins, a fan of epic stories, or even a fan of books that are a bit different, you will LOVE this one! Don't miss it!


Told to read this by my boyfriend who declared that I NEEDED to read this book to understand him, I am now disgusted and reconsidering my relationship. Ok, I'm kidding, but I take solace in the fact he read this book in high school.Oddly enough, my best friend also said this is her favorite book.Either I'm surprised to discover I'm a prude, or Robbins wastes way too much of a promising book on misogynistic fantasies of all women as nymphomaniacs who live and breathe to seduce and pleasure their usually significantly older male partners. The only relationship that didn't annoy me was between Priscilla and Ricki, and even that one was sexually focused. I don't mind reading about sex, in fact I rather enjoy it if done tastefully, but I feel that the overwhelming sexual descriptions took away from the substance of Robbins' ideas. I found myself rolling my eyes throughout most of it and was even embarassed when a man in a plane commented on my book choice, noting that another author he reads is "like Tom Robbins if he had a heart." I give it two stars because Robbins is clever (maybe too clever) and funny and I feel that the ending made up for what was lacking earlier in the book. Or maybe I was just glad to be done with it.


Tom Robbins is, to me, like the band Rush (I know this seems like I'm trying too hard, but honestly, this is the best analogy I can come up with & this is legitmately the first thing that came to mind): You like them ok, and even get a bit excited when they come up on the radio, but when you're grabbing CDs for your car, your copy of "Moving Pictures" somehow never quite makes the cut. That's how it is with me and Tom Robbins. Well written? Check. Interesting characters? Check. Unique? Double check. Glad I read the book? Check...But somehow this is all never enough to get me to grab his next book off the shelf. Robbins is one of my wife's favorite authors, and I can see why, but somehow his work just doesn't grab me on a long-term basis. Still though - great book. If you want something a bit unique & haven't read his stuff yet, give this a try. Unlike me, you'll probably want more.


Hm. What to say about this guy . . . this is totally a guy you either love or hate, and yet I find myself strangely ambivalent. There are some things i really appreciated about the book and his style, and there are some things I really didn't care for. Whatever one says about this writer, the first is that he is a complete iconoclast of Rabelasian proportion. He ignores pretty much every rule that fiction writers generally, in good taste, abide by. And to an extent that's quite refreshing. He's incomparably clever at turning a phrase. His imagination is boundless. Through the first 50 or so pages I was very skeptical, but then he got me, and the reading went much quicker. I also have a lot of appreciation for his message, and that message is consistent with the manner in which he writes. I can therefore conclude that Tom Robins is simply writing who he is, and that's pretty much all one can ask of any author . . .That being said, here come the complaints. I guess my biggest complaint was the fact that the novel's pull depended so much upon the author's cleverness. The characters all have roughly the same sense of humor (which I suspect is very much like Mr. Robins' own) and I felt they could have been interchanged with one another into different roles and it wouldn't have made a difference. And I guess that's it - I was so aware of the writer and his tongue in cheek (or tongue in ass?) wit that the characters remained at a distance from me, as if they were on a stage, and when the novel stalled (which was not often) I was painfully aware of this distance. At those points they seemed like characters from a Beckett or Pirandello play wandering about in search of direction. Robins is perhaps too overtly the master puppeteer with his many strings dangling from quick moving fingers . . . The big question for me when I finished the novel was 'Why did I not connect on an emotional level with the characters?' The novel is wonderfully humorous, the author's aim is admirable, and he treats his characters with a decided tenderness; yet despite this I was left feeling a little aloof. And I think it was because of one thing: his characters don't change. They don't struggle. They struggle, but they don't seem to struggle as much with the reasons why they do things. They struggle with two things: bills and cosmic issues. In that order. I might have loved this novel ten or fifteen years ago.Which leads me to my third and final criticism. This novel reminded me at times of Ayn Rand. Whom I despise. It also reminded me of BF Skinner, who wrote perhaps the worst novel (Walden II) in the history of novel writing. How can I compare someone like Tom Robins to Ayn Rand? How can I compare the leaping imagination of Tom Robins with the clinical sensibility of Skinner? Why they seem like total opposites! Ah but they are, in a way, the same. You see to Ayn Rand things like characters are always subservient to her greater (and stupid) purpose of telling all people to act like butt-holes, and then they will be better off. And though Tom Robins has quite the opposite message, his characters are still subservient to his ideas, and I tend to think that characters need a little more elbow room than that. Characters are people too, after all.I was going to give this book 3 stars, based on my enjoyment level, but then I realized you know what? I've never read a book like this before and it definitely got me to thinking. Thinking of the serious, head-scratching variety. I can't say I'm going to rush out and buy his oeuvres, but I will pick one up the next time I'm feeling guilty about loafing about or surfing too much. And for that? 4 stars for you Tom Robins!


I have vacillated between a four and five star rating on this. I LOVE the words. Each page was a delicious treat that kept me on the edge of my seat...what metaphor or simile or pun would Robbins pull out of the treasure chest that is his brain? I fell in LOVE with the language. I know it sounds weird, but the way he wrote about the beet and all vegetables on the very first page sold me. I knew this book would be amazing.The only thing that keeps me from giving it 100% are the main story lines. They didn't flow as I hoped they would, or intertwine as simply as they were supposed to for me. I lost a little interest in Priscilla, I wasn't all that fascinated with Pan....the French Marcel didn't hold any special place in my heart....thus, the four star rating.But READ it! Four stars from me is a GOOD, GOOD thing!You'll never look at a beet the same way again!HERE ARE SOME OF THE QUOTES I LIKED:The Middle Ages hangs over history's belt like a beer belly. It is too late now for aerobic dancing or cottage cheese lunches to reduce the Middle Ages. History will have to wear size 48 shorts forever.In the quiet ache of the evening, Alobar listened to his calluses grow.I journey to the east, where I have been told, there are men who have taught death some manners.Louisiana in September was like an obscene phone call from nature. The air - moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh - felt as if it were being exhaled into one's face. Sometimes it even sounded like heavy breathing.To achieve the impossible, it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought.


Talk about not understanding what all the fuss is about. If I'm not mistaken, Tom Robbins is kind of a literary legend in some circles, and at the very least has sold millions of books. And while there's certainly an intelligent, probing mind behind this sexual-philosophical hodgepodge of a book, the sum of the parts of my first foray into Robbins' world was not much fun to read.I recently read an interview with Tom Robbins in which the author admits to being able to write about two pages a day. This makes sense to me because I was able to read about two pages of Jitterbug Perfume a day. I read this book out loud to my girlfriend, over many months, usually in bed before going to sleep. We thought it would be a fun book to read together, and at first it very much was, but by the end it was a struggle to get through even a few paragraphs without nodding off. Robbins sets a colorful cast of characters in motion right from the get-go: There's Priscilla, a sexually frustrated "genius waitress" trying to invent perfume in her Seattle apartment. There's Madame Devalier and her assistant V'lu, who also make perfume in New Orleans, and there's yet a third perfume-making team out in Paris, whose names I can't remember so pointless were they to the story. (And yet, they are talked about as if they are important, a penchant Robbins seems to have for... nearly everything. Every sentence of Jitterbug Perfume rings with an air of unfathomable significance, as if Robbins has solved the mysteries of the universe and has taken it upon himself to explain it to us. It's all VERY self-important.)Anywho! Not one of the aforementioned characters is very interesting, but it's intriguing to imagine how they all might connect. Also, Robbins kept us hooked (initially) with the tale of yet another set of characters, Alobar and Kudra, a couple who meets something like 900 years ago, then proceeds to learn ancient eastern self-preservation techniques and live healthily and happily until the present day. At first, it's fascinating to simply follow these strange, exotic characters around a bygone Eastern world, but Robbins can't sustain the momentum. When they actually start living forever, moving through time and geographical location, it feels like we are living forever right along with them. They have long, tedious conversations expounding on love and relationships and spirituality and immortality and other stuff I can't remember and they meet the god Pan, who makes everyone he encounters extremely turned on despite the fact he smells horrible.I dunno... I'm getting tired even thinking about this book, let alone trying to describe hundreds of pages of arbitrary plot detritus that I've already spent months slogging through. Simply put, Robbins' pinballing wackiness and juxtaposition of the mythical and the real felt contrived to me, and his relentless stream of off-kilter metaphors and humorous asides felt a.) dated as hell comedy-wise (like the literary version of 1980s stand-up comics), and b.) extremely self-satisfied, as if he was constantly winking and nudging us and saying "can you believe I'm describing something this way? can you believe it? eh, sonny? pull my finger!"This funny/dirty old man vibe achieves downright unpleasant proportions in the second half of the book, when the Priscilla character falls for a much older man/social theorist named Wiggs Dannyboy, who she bangs relentlessly in scene after scene of squirm-inducing sexual depiction (positions? thrust patterns? fluids? You name it, you got it.) These scenes feel all too much like some kind of fantasy the middle-aged Robbins (At the time of Jitterbug's inception, that is) is enacting on the page—and they're gross.It would all be ok (gross sex, Robbins' arrogance, meandering plot threads) if it all went somewhere, but it doesn't. It really doesn't. The disparate characters do come together, but not in any meaningful fashion, and last-minute additions like Wiggs Dannyboy, Bingo Pajama and a strangely sentient swarm of bees feel tacked on, and boring in their arbitrariness. There are some nice ideas in Jitterbug Perfume—some pointed stuff about deep breathing, healthy eating, and general soulful living predates the alternative lifestyle movement by at least a decade or more—but lord you have to dig to find it. And dig, and dig, and dig...


post-read: Ohhhh, I really missed reading Robbins. What fun! This book was both more and less wonderful than I'd remembered. More because I'd forgotten just what a superb stylist Robbins is (see mid-read comments). His plots are intricate, his characters are rendered in wonderful detail, down to the distinctive vocal stylings. His ideas, though perhaps a smidge stale twenty-five years on, are still interesting and fun and clever and smart, intellectual, but not in a showy or pedantic way. Plus there's that anxiety you get when you're, oh, twenty or so pages from the end of a book, thinking There's no way he can pull it all together satisfactorily in so few pages! But he does! It's a tiny bit cheesy, maybe just a wee bit pat, but c'mon. He had an awful lot of balls in the air. Less for a few reasons. I'd kindly blocked out the fact that everyone in a Tom Robbins novel sooner or later launches into a discourse that sounds exactly like Tom Robbins, which can get pretty annoying. Also, I forgot how letchy he can be. There's a lot of sex in this book – in fact, it's one of the four pillars of immortality – which is fine; it's just that the descriptions of it are often a bit much. ("Alma hiccupped the mushroom scent of his spurt," ex, not to mention lots of glistening, semen-encrusted thighs, and that sort of thing.) The other thing, which isn't really bad or good, exactly, is that I think Tom Robbins is kind of a victim of himself. He's too much Tom Robbins sometimes. Too hippie-cliché; too cerebral-in-an-understandable-but-trippy-way; too specific with his characters, to the point where they become caricatures that are hard to take seriously; even, sadly, too over-the-top with his metaphors ("his knuckle began rapping at his eye patch like a mongoloid woodpecker drilling for worms in a poker chip"? Are you kidding?); just too... too much. I guess taking a few years off between Robbinses allows one to forget these drawbacks just enough to come back to him fresh and be able to enjoy his shimmering originality again. mid-read: It's not that I'd forgotten, exactly, but no one does metaphors like Tom Robbins. For example: The sky was a velvety black paw pressing on the snowy landscape with a feline delicacy, stars flying like sparks from its fur. Fuck, really??pre-read: Last night I made the most amaaazing beet salad. And this afternoon, as I was pondering a middle ground between all the new new new new things I've been reading and something (Proust) too, ah, weighty to take on vacation, I saw my little half-shelf of Tom Robbins. I can't believe I don't have Another Roadside Attraction , but I thought I'd maybe check out this one, which I haven't read in like a decade. The whole book is about beets!! And oh my god, how have I not read Tom Robbins in so long?? He is so fucking cool.


What can I say about Tom Robbins? The man's a freaking rock star.Jitterbug Perfume is an epic. It's about immortality, religion, individuality, pleasure, our primitive brain (specifically our sense of smell), the ridiculousness of life, conformity, escaping social bounds, and, well, LIFE. It's a love story. It's philosophical. It's a laugh-out-loud comedy routine. It's everything, and without a single cliché in sight. Sometimes the everything-ness was exhausting, but only because I so desperately wanted--no, needed--to wrap my brain around the entirety of Robbins' message. I constantly felt like I was missing something, and I didn't want to let anything fly over my head. This is difficult because there are so many balls up in the air; one can't help but wonder how it's possible to catch them all. Robbins must have used charts, notes, graphs, large pieces of paper taped together and tacked onto his office walls to write this book. Either that or his editor really kept tabs on things.The book was released in 1984, and some of the reviews I've read stated that the book is good despite its outdated ideologies. I disagree that Robbins' observations and commentary are outdated. He eloquently stresses certain simple and logical truths that remain quite relevant today: reduced stress can lengthen life span, organisms that consistently feel pleasure and purpose tend to stick around longer, individuality and meaning are being threatened by social constructs that urge us to conform to our surroundings, etc. While the search for immortality is ridiculous and unnatural (to me, at least), the basic tools for prolonging life are important and useful. I'm simplifying his message, but like I said, this book is difficult to summarize. I couldn't help but wonder about Robbins' current stance on technology, on our "perma-connectedness" via the digital world. Would he say that it hinders individuality, that it's simply another tool we use to disappear and conform within social norms? Or would he think that we are freer to explore meaning and diversity with constant information at our fingertips? I'm not sure about this one. Perhaps I'll have to read some of his more recent work to discover the answer(s).


Here's a discussion board assignment I wrote for an advanced English class regarding Jitterbug Perfume:My favorite author, Tom Robbins, was my favorite author even before he wrote my favorite novel of all time.  My copies of Robbins’ first three books, Another Roadside Attraction, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and Still Life with Woodpecker (especially the latter) were tattered and dog-eared with repeated readings long before I got my hands on Jitterbug Perfume.  It was 1985, and I was a twenty-one year old single mom, coping with a new baby and a new job and muddling my way through life.  Jitterbug Perfume was my ticket to a fantastical rocket-ride of metaphorical madness, spiritual surmising, and time-skipping adventure, and I loved it utterly.  My rebellious side adored Robbins’ habit of taking liberties with the English language that would undoubtedly be frowned upon in polite society.  While stretching the art of the metaphor to ridiculous lengths at every turn, Robbins coins new words to suit his language-twisting purposes, pursuing (seeming) tangents and (apparently) unnecessary asides till the reader is all a-tangle in his fanciful, sermonistic, even cartoonish prose, only to tie up every crazily flapping loose end in a manner that somehow includes both the delicious itch of tantalization and the sweet release of complete satisfaction (this is the most Robbins-esque sentence in this paragraph, by the way).  Upon reaching the end of Jitterbug Perfume, I burst into tears and immediately flipped back to the beginning and started over.  Since those first back-to-back readings, I have read the book over and over, including once aloud, cover to cover, to my sweetheart.  I never tire of the story, which is densely plotted across time (from the days when the earth was flat to nine o’clock tonight, Paris time) and space (from ancient Bohemia and the Far East to present-day Seattle, New Orleans, and the aforementioned Paris).  Lyrical, silly, romantic, epic, lusty, and illuminating, Jitterbug Perfume never fails to delight and inspire me.  The book blew my burdened, restless young mind open to the extreme possibilities of writing, transforming the art of writing and the English language itself into something decidedly un-boring and sexy in my eyes.  I often wonder if another book will ever come along to tickle and twist and educate my mind as much as Jitterbug Perfume. Perhaps one day the right book will come along at the right time and once again blow my skull delightfully apart, dethroning Mr. Robbins as my favorite author and deepest influence of all time.  I sort of hope so… and sort of not.

Orr Hirschauge

Abstract: Too clever for its own sake. Too new age for my sake. Too long for anybody's sake.Ok. So I have something anti-New-Age. But unlike what many think this is not because of basic assumptions, or at least the more bluntly obvious ones. It's because of the lack of other such. For instance "control your thoughts and you can control everything". Instead of arguing about its truth or falseness, which is what most pro New-Age conversants bring up, I would rather discuss the nature of this statement: for some reason this sentence is regarded as optimistic which seems to me to be, at the least, necessary of justification. Ok - "control your thoughts and you can control everything". Cheerio. A ok. But can we? Wouldn't it be like saying "Once you succeed success is yours"? Thoughts are not that easily manipulated, or at least not as easily manipulated as just stating it. Even if we are able to at least consciously fence off "bad thoughts" that is still a far cry from controlling them. The "problem" remains - humans are social beings. Our thoughts, so to speak, are not just our own. In short, The Matrix seems problematic without a V for Vendetta. OK. Returning to the book. It's quite funny at parts, but Im much a bigger fan of somewhat similar in style Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Hunter Thompson and a few others. I also like my books with a much reduced dosage of lecturing (at some points this book is outright pamphlet stuff). In terms of writing when Robbins gets a holds on his clever bone he is ok, but then again oh-so-many plot lines that come off into nothing really exciting. It feels as if they are playing the mortar bits for all that preaching that goes on. As Phoebe says after kissing Rachel - "I've had better". (Yey for me another Friends quote)

Ksenia Anske

Enter the floral age of humanity (evidently, we're past reptilian and mammal at this point), pour your entire vocabulary into a blue glass flask, sprinkle it with a bit of Pan, sex, religion, politics, family values and war, cork it, drag it across centuries, from Bohemia to Seattle to Paris to New Orleans, then give it one last shake and spill it over pages of a book - the result will be as close as you can get to understanding what Jitterbug Perfume is about. To say its epic is to say nothing at all. There is only one thing I can say about it - after reading it, you won't ever look at the beets the same. So, go ahead, open it up and take the plunge. Don't forget to look up the skirt of a mountain, oh, and eat your beets.It took me longer than usual to be done with this book. It was so densely woven into elaborate and intricate sentences that resided in long dialogues on everything under the sun, that I had to literally dip out of Tom Robbins' mind and breathe for a day or two before being able to plunge back in. In short, I adored his beautiful allegorical sentences, but I didn't care so much for the story. Will I ever pick up another book of his? Maybe in another year. Is he brilliant? Beyond any doubt. Should you read it? YES, YES, YES. You might find yourself a kingdom you never dreamed you can reach, paved with wisdoms like this: "The instant the reminiscence faded, the symptoms of deterioration took over, grabbing the limelight like an insecure celebrity, drowning out, with Welkian schmalz, the shy snores of embezzlers, the out-of-sync rasps of homicidal maniacs, the nocturnal whimpers of lifelong bullyboys."


Here’s a question for those who have read Tom Robbins: How would you describe him to the uninitiated? Certainly you’d have to say he’s quirky, in a wordplayful sort of way. His eccentric use of metaphors is like a Catskills comedian’s use of one-liners – it’s a big part of the act. There’s usually some substance to his writing, too. The social commentary is often straight from the flower power perspective, but he’s more insightful than most when it comes to articulating a view. He was an art major in school and did graduate work in religious history before becoming a journalist. Maybe I find him interesting because I have such a different background. The less structured thinking in a book like Jitterbug Perfume is a good antidote to econometric analysis texts.It was a long time ago that I read my favorite Robbins books, but I think I’d still appreciate the humor, the artistry, and the full twisting verbal layouts in the pike position. One of the themes I remember from this particular selection was summarized in one word: “erleichda” (meaning “lighten up”). It was a lesson worth learning after dealing with Boston traffic to and from my first job.Robbins may not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, if any of you non-initiates are open to some unusual herbal offerings, like Passion Fruit Zinger possibly, I’d encourage you to give him a try.


Fucking terrible. An immortality fable thoroughly leavened with pseudo-spiritual bullshit, goofball names (Bingo Pajama! Huxley Anne and Wiggs Dannyboy! V'lu Jackson! The Bandaloops!), nonsensical descriptions ('Above Seattle, the many-buttocked sky continued to grind', 'The shaman grinned like a weasel running errands for the moon'), a black character dat sho 'nuff be talkin' like dis, and a yucky, hairy, hornball lesbian - Careful, Priscilla - she's going to corner you and eat your pussy!At one point, this actually happens.Worth reading - now I know not to read anything else:1. Written by Tom Robbins 2. Recommended to me by the person who told me I should read Tom Robbins.


In all of Tom Robbins' books, even the ones I love, there is something about the way he treats gender that keeps me a little on edge. It seems that in one moment of time (1970, Sexual Revolution, there was a Fu Manchu mustache involved), he discovered a new way of thinking about women, and since then, he hasn't found a plot twist, metaphor, or character that doesn't, in some way, lead back to our orgasms, in all their Robbins-inflected glory. That said, nobody tells a story like Tom Robbins. Jitterbug Perfume contains all the myth, mystery, and hilarity that I love about his books. If you can get past the dirty-old-man factor, I recommend this book as a good introduction to the Robbins collection.


I keep feeling like this book is like something else that I've read, but I couldn't tell you what that something else is.I guess it's kinda like Kurt Vonnegut meets Robert Anton Wilson meets . . . maybe Chuck Palahniuk, emphasis on maybe, but very much Vonnegut meets Wilson.And kinda Philip K. Dick, a little, just less of the science fiction and more of the mind-blowing philosophical standpoint.That being said, I liked it. It's incredibly dense, in the sense that there is so much in it. The language is something unto itself, and when I happened across it in the Borders in Providence Place Mall, it was the language and the first little introductory page that convinced me I had to go back and buy it. It's at once prose, poetical, intellectual, light, jovial, didactic, aloof. Really something else.I couldn't help but wonder, as I went through it, how the hell he wrote it. What kind of research he had to have done, if he did any. I mean, the story itself is basically a very simple story, but it's all the layers that are interwoven on top of it are really something else. It boggles the mind. I mean, there are things that just kind of stand out as periphery (Bingo Pajama, unfortunately, being one of them) to the overall story, but the amount of philosophical inference and banter, the journey throughout time, perfumery culture, like, where do you find this stuff? Impressive. Utterly impressive.

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