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


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on things.The book was released in 1984, and some of the reviews I've read stated that the book is good despite its outdated ideologies. I disagree that Robbins' observations and commentary are outdated.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).


Well, I officially don’t get Tom Robbins. People have recommended him on the basis of comparisons to Douglas Adams, but Adams is, you know, funny. Here’s what seems to pass for humor in a Tom Robbins novel: beets (the very existence of), a woman getting stung in a delicate place by a bee, and lesbians (the very existence of). And here’s the kind of prose you can look forward to:The sky, layered with thin altostratus clouds and smog, appeared to reflect human suffering and failed to awaken in Claude visions of paradise. (Page 13)The sky was a velvety black paw pressing on the white landscape with a feline delicacy, stars flying like sparks from its fur. (Page 36)With the absence of the cloud cover that normally caused the sky over Seattle to resemble cottage cheese that had been dragged nine miles behind a cement truck, the city, for the first time in memory, would have an unobstructed view of one of nature’s most mystical spectacles. (Page 47)When Claude glanced at the sky, he saw that the text of Les Miserables had been painted over by Salvador Dali. The sun was so round and glossy and black that had it a figure eight on it, well, it would have validated a lot of long-standing philosophical and theological complaints, underlining once and for all just where we earthlings sit on the cosmic pool table. (Page 81)A few flat clouds folded themselves like crepes over fillings of apricot sky. Pompadours of supper-time smoke billowed from chimneys, separating into girlish pigtails as the breeze combed them out, above the slate rooftops. Chestnut blossoms, weary from having been admired all day, wore faint smiles of anticipation. (Page 201)And of course:Above Seattle, the many-buttocked sky continued to grind. (Page 312)And that’s just me culling annoying descriptions of the sky. Imagine 350 dense, unrelenting pages of this crap. I never thought a book about immortality—one of my favorite subjects—could ever inspire in me such a desperate desire for it all to please just end.


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.


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.


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.


What's up with the juvenile sex talk, man? Ugh it's a great story, pretty funny and exciting and all, but he just has to throw in descriptions of genitals and sex acts wherever he can. I'm certainly no prude, but that doesn't mean that I need to know about every erection and scenario where the main characters have more sex in five minutes of reading than most people have all month! And I'm sorry, but there is no way to make a clever metaphor for boners or boobs or whatever. It's a waste of good writing skills. You end up sounding like a pervy 14 year old no matter what. But it did inspire me to cook some beets, and I'm seriously in love now. With beets. Weird, I know, but they're great. Since this is a book forum, I won't go on about it, but ask me sometime and I'll tell you all about how awesome beets are.


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.


Αντίθετα με τους πολυάριθμους οπαδούς του Ρόμπινς εγώ δεν μπόρεσα να βρω κανένα (μα κανένα σας λεω)ενδιαφέρον στην Πρισίλα,μια σερβιτόρα επίδοξη αρωματοποιός και με λανθάνουσες λεσβιακές κατατομές.Δεν μπόρεσα να καταπιώ τους άνοστους λεφέβρ ούτε την παγερή μαντάμ Ντεβαλιέ (ή κάπως έτσι).Συνέπεια όλων αυτών ήταν να κουραστώ μέχρι χασμουρητού κατά την παράλληλη αφήγηση Σιάτλ-Νέα Ορλεάνη-Παρίσι,ένα άχρηστο οδοιπορικό χωρίς ουσία,χωρίς εξέλιξη...Έμεινε ο φουκαράς ο Αλομπάρ μόνος και έρημος να σώσει την παρτίδα αλλά ένας κούκος...τέλος, το ότι οι πρωταγωνιστές ήταν όλοι λιγούρηδες για σεξ δεν νομίζω ότι πρόσθεσε κάτι στην υπόθεση,μάλλον την εκφύλισε ολότελα.(Αν ο Ρόμπινς βγάζει την σεξουαλική του στέρηση και στα άλλα του βιβλία,δεν θα πάρω ευχαριστώ).Βέβαια σε μερικούς αρέσουν τα παραπάνω βιβλία, σε άλλους όχι. Γούστα είναι αυτά. Καλό είναι να μην μειώνουμε κανέναν συγγραφέα από ένα μόνο βιβλίο... Εκεί που κάποιος βλέπει "μπουρδολογίες" και "επίδοξα αρπακτικά", κάποιος άλλος βλέπει ταλέντο και ποιότητα...Χαμηλώνοντας λοιπόν τους τόνους, να πω ταπεινά ότι εμένα δεν μου άρεσε καθόλου αυτό το βιβλίο. Με κούρασε η φλυαρία του ενώ δεν βρήκα τίποτα το ελκυστικό στην πλοκή και στους χαρακτήρες.

Christopher Todd

Thoroughly impressed. Well written.


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.


Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma: which reading list to follow it up with? Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously. This book falls into my GIFTS AND GUILTY list.Regardless of how many books are already queued patiently on my reading list, unexpected gifts and guilt-trips will always see unplanned additions muscling their way in at the front.Let's jump straight in with a quote from somebody else's review:"I was surprised at how much I liked this book" - Gertie Ditto, Gertie, ditto!A couple of years back I decided to get all of my immediate family the same present (same-same, but different) - as many second hand books as I could get for £20. I averaged about 7 books each.My brother got various Mann Booker Prize winners. My Mum got a platter of modern sci-fi and fantasy. My Step-Dad got a selection of humorous fantasy works: this being one of them.He likes authors like Tom Holt, Robert Rankin and Chris Moore. I wasn't familiar with Tom Robbins (at all, like, zilch recognition) but it kept popping up on Amazon's 'if you like this, you might like...' so I took a punt and chucked it into his birthday bundle. There were two books he came back to me raving about and thrust into my hands - Lamb and Jitterbug Perfume . Having read one Moore beforehand, I knew what to expect from Lamb , so I breezed through it in while stuck on a plane - and it's a good book. I didn't know what to expect from Jitterbug , so I left it on a shelf... and it kept looking at me...It's good! Not to put down their own work, but this is the kind of story that Holt & Rankin would kill to write! It's got just as much imagination and whimsy as their zany tales, but a much deeper and more finessed use of theme, and bucketloads more 'blood-on-the-walls' heart to it.It's a story about immortality, perfume, passion and beets!Quick tangent:(view spoiler)[(If you've never heard of British poet/rapper Scroobius Pip, check out the song 'The Beat That My Heart Skips' on youtube - that kept popping into my head (over and over again) as the 'The Beet That My Heat Skips') (hide spoiler)]It's light hearted and smart, it's fun, funny, and tremendously enjoyable. Robbins knows his way around a sentence and can certainly produce a playful paragraph - the man can write!I particularly enjoyed Pan, the whale mask, the lesbian not-lover, heaven and the bees. A delightfully incongruous combination of words!So why not a 5-star?Because... It's just not quite my thing. It's a bit like watching Friends with the wife - there's no doubt it's entertaining, I don't complain about watching it - but I'd rather be watching Battlestar!I doubt I'll ever feel the urge to re-read, and if there was a sequel I'm not sure I'd pick it up. We enjoyed our time together, but like a blind-date set-up that seems good in theory, it's clear the chemistry isn't right for a long term relationship.After this I read: Greywalker["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

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)


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...


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.


This book is RIDICULOUS! Its a huge, dense story in a small package. I thought I would speed right through it, but it is so dense that it has taken me nearly 3 weeks to get through it.I recommend this book highly. Its smart, thought-provoking, and over-the-top. I have never read anything like it before.The only reason I didn't give it 5 stars is that the incessant absurd metaphors that Robbins uses grow tiresome after the first few chapters. At first they seem clever, but then after the first 20 or so I started rolling my mental eyes each time he used another one.But really, that is the only fault I can find with this novel. It has everything else I could ask for. And as soon as I finished it, I had the urge to turn to the first page and start over again (which is always a sign of a good book). "Teachers who offer you the ultimate answers do not possess the ultimate answers, for if they did, they would know that the ultimate answers cannot be given, they can only be received."

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