By Caroline B. Cooney.
Dove’s name matches her personality: she is demure and timid; you would barely know she’s there. That is, until she takes the stopper out of a new bottle of perfume, Venom, and unleashes not only its potent smell but also a part of Dove that had remained dormant for her first fifteen years. Dove is convinced that this new personality is her twin Wing, who vanished from their mother’s womb before birth. However, Wing is not satisfied with sharing Dove’s body and mind. She wants complete control and Venom soon renders Dove powerless in the struggle against her evil twin.
This might not be one of the most accesible entries in the Point Horror franchise, but it is one of the most interesting and satisfying reads and well worth the effort of getting past the confusing first chapters. Whereas many Point Horrors focus on a ‘normal’ teenager being targeted by a maniac with a grudge, Caroline B. Cooney starts with an unstable protagonist (Dove appears to be unhinged from page 1) with an unhappy home life (her parents are aloof, unloving) before her troubles with The Perfume even begin. It is a claustrophobic experience. Whether you’re in her bland, box-like condo; crammed into the back seat of her friend’s car or stuck in one of the onion layers of Dove’s mind as ‘Wing’ takes over, you cannot help but feel her desperation, and her madness.
What really sets The Perfume apart from other Point Horrors is the notion that Dove may not actually be experiencing the supernatural goings-on. Schizophrenia is mentioned early on in the story when Dove, starting to believe her twin is insinuating herself into her mind, asks her science teacher whether a person can be born with two brains. It is never made clear whether ‘Wing’ exists in her own right, or only as a figment of Dove’s imagination/madness. Either concept is chilling in its own way and the ambiguity adds to the horror. A brief spell in a mental institution could have been expanded upon to further explore the possibility of Dove’s sanity vs madness. Unfortunately its brevity not only undermines this element of the story but also makes the ending feel somewhat rushed. There is a sense of resolution at the end which frustratingly detracts from the horror. It could be an intentional softening of the story to lighten the darkness and bring it more in line with the rest of the pre-teen friendly franchise. Nevertheless, The Perfume is a unique, satisfying and memorable read.
The Perfume plays with concepts of which we are aware, but which we can only vaguely understand. When Dove is trapped in her own body but unable to control what it does, a prisoner of her own mind, it is like she is experiencing locked-in syndrome, and we are confronted with the terrifying nature of this condition. When she is committed to the institution, she is told that what she ‘knows’ to be true is, in fact, a symptom of her split personality disorder. The more she tells the ‘truth’, the more unstable she is considered to be. Because these things can and do happen in real life, Dove’s experiences are all the more terrifying, and the combination of realism and surrealism give The Perfume a fear factor rating of…