First edition cover
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||342 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-553-05068-0 (first edition, hardback)|
|Dewey Decimal||813/.54 19|
|LC Classification||PS3568.O233 J5 1984|
Jitterbug Perfume is Tom Robbins' fourth novel, published in 1984. The major themes of the book include the striving for immortality, the meaning behind the sense of smell, individual expression, self-reliance, sex, love, and religion. Beets and the god Pan figure prominently. The novel is a self-described epic, with four distinct storylines, one set in 8th century Bohemia and three others in modern day New Orleans, Seattle, and Paris.
A powerful and righteous 8th-century king named Alobar narrowly escapes regicide at the hands of his own subjects, as it is their custom to kill the king at the first sign of aging. After fleeing, no longer a king but a simple peasant, he travels through Eurasia, and eventually meets the goat-god Pan, who is slowly losing his powers as the world turns toward Christianity. In India, he meets a girl, Kudra, who goes on to become his wife. As with most of Robbins' couples, their mutual libido is enormous, and their love quite like something out of a fairy tale.
After an encounter with a mysterious group known as "The Bandaloop Doctors," Alobar is set down the path towards eternal life, which, according to Robbins, can be attained by a consistent ritual of controlled breath work, simple eating, sex, and bathing in extremely hot water. Alobar and Kudra, successful in their immortality, travel about Europe until the 17th century, when they attempt a sort of new transcendental meditation and become separated into different astral planes.
Meanwhile, in present-day, a "genius waitress" named Priscilla struggles with a difficult job in a low-end Mexican restaurant. Priscilla is an amateur perfumer, and is obsessed with trying to locate the base note in recreating a fragrance, something she believes will be almost magical, from a three-hundred-year-old perfume bottle in her possession. While dealing with this, she juggles the unwanted advances of a lesbian co-worker, has a brief affair with an eccentric millionaire obsessed with eternal life, and contemplates the mysterious deliveries of beets to her apartment.
In New Orleans, Priscilla's stepmother, the Madame Devalier, a once successful perfumer, is also working to recreate the same fragrance as Priscilla, after her assistant, V'lu re-liberated the ancient bottle . Madame Devalier is intent on restoring her name in the business, and discontinuing the production items one might construe as shady. She seeks something magical using the ultra ingredient Jamaican jasmine supplied by a mysterious man with the helmet of swarming bees, Bingo Pajama.
In Paris, the LeFever Parfumaire is concerned about their eccentric leader, Marcel, who equates smell as the most important factor in the forward movement of the evolutionary process. After witnessing an eclipse, he is obsessed with his own scent.
The story lines eventually converge into a climax in New Orleans, with a brief stop in another dimension.
The main message is summarized in the dying words of Albert Einstein, spoken in Alobar's 8th century Bohemian dialect Erleichda, loosely translated as "lighten up".
A restaurant in Kennebunkport, Maine, United States (US), is named "Bandaloop", with the owners using the book as the primary inspiration for the design of the business; a similar restaurant existed in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, US, between 1988 and 2003. Menu items at the Baltimore eating establishment were named after characters and events in the book, while the suspension from the ceiling of a fully decorated, upside-down Christmas tree during the holiday season also garnered attention.
Project Bandaloop, a multi-dimensional dance company founded in 1991 by Amelia Rudolph, was named after the Bandaloop from Jitterbug Perfume.
The minor character Ellen Cherry Charles, one of the "genius waitresses" in Priscilla's group, later becomes the protagonist in Robbins' novel Skinny Legs and All, in which the group is also featured.
- Unknown (2005–2011). "JITTERBUG PERFUME Tom Robbins". Blue Rectangle. Pacific Book Exchange, LLC. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
- W. Scott and Bridget Lee (2012). "Bandaloop is". Bandaloop Restaurant. W. Scott and Bridget Lee. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
- Orlando, City of Business License Permits Database Search 1992
- Bandaloop (1991–2012). "Welcome to Bandaloop". Bandaloop: Re-imagining Dance, Changing Perspectives. Bandaloop. Retrieved 15 August 2012.