20 greatest works of fiction about New Orleans

12 of 21

Jitterbug Perfume (Cover image via Bantam)

10. Jitterbug Perfume

To be fair, Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins’ 1984 novel, is not solely focused on New Orleans. Really, the city takes up one of four major storylines in the book. Still, New Orleans is such a big presence in the book that it’s more than enough to include Jitterbug Perfume on this list.

Essentially, the novel concerns dueling perfumers located in Paris, Seattle and, of course, New Orleans. They all come to be connected, somehow, to a mysterious bottle of perfume that might just be linked to immortality.

Really, it starts in the eighth century, where a deposed king travels through Eurasia, hoping to find the secret of long life. He eventually encounters Pan, the stinky goat god from Greece. That would be pretty impressive if Pan wasn’t slowly losing his powers thanks to the rise of Christianity. Even still, Pan’s advice to keep moving east is powerful advice.

Then story then switches to the modern day, where it focuses on the above-mentioned perfumers. Priscilla is a part-time waitress who is trying to recreate the fragrance found in a mysterious perfume bottle that is over 300 years old. Her mother, Madame Devalier, is attempting a similar feat in her once-prosperous fragrance business based in New Orleans.

Jitterbug Perfume continually switches between this modern story and the tale of the ancient king in search of immortality. Eventually, the book expands to include different astral planes, lost loves and a persistent ancient Greek god.

It all sounds serious indeed, but Jitterbug Perfume is as silly and lighthearted as it is well-written.