The Pigeon (Patrick Suskind)

I’m a big fan of Patrick Suskind’s novel Perfume, and I never thought I’d come across another one of his works, until I got a notification from my Bookmooch account that a copy of his novella, The Pigeon, was available for mooching. It turns out another local moocher (and a reader of this blog!), Iya, had just put up a copy in her inventory, and I wasted no time mooching it (Thank you Iya!!!).

Suskind is one of the most interesting [living] authors I’ve encountered — there is very little information about him available; he has shunned the literary scene, and he doesn’t grant interviews or allow photos of himself to be taken.

Perfume is Suskind’s best known work, but has also written the bestselling play Double Bass; the novellas The Pigeon, The Story of Mr. Sommer, and Three Stories and a Reflection; as well as a 2006 essay collection entitled On Love and Death.

The Pigeon is about Jonathan Noel, a French security guard who leads a quiet, solitary life in his apartment bedroom. Jonathan leads a routine life and is perfectly happy with it, until one fateful day, when a pigeon comes to roost at the apartment’s bathroom floor. The pigeon’s unwelcome arrival shatters Jonathan’s composure and he is pushed to the borders of his sanity as he attempts to deal with this intrusion in his organized life.

Here’s an extract from Penguin books:

At the time the pigeon affair overtook him, unhinging his life from one day to the next, Jonathan Noel, already past fifty, could look back over a good twenty-year period of total uneventfulness and would never have expected anything of importance could ever overtake him again – other than death some day. And that was perfectly all right with him. For he was not fond of events, and hated outright those that rattled his inner equilibrium and made a muddle of the external arrangements of life.a

The majority of such events lay, thank God, far back in the dim, remote years of his childhood and youth, which he no longer had any desire whatever to recall, and when he did, then only with the greatest aversion. On a summer afternoon, in July 1942, in or near Charenton, as he was returning home from fishing – there had been a thunderstorm that day with heavy rain, after a long heat wave – on the way home he had taken off his shoes, had walked along the warm, wet asphalt with bare feet and splashed through the puddles, an indescribable delight . . . he had come home from fishing, then, and had run into the kitchen, expecting to find his mother there cooking, and his mother was nowhere to be seen, all that was to be seen was her apron, hanging over the back of the chair. His mother was gone, his father said, she had had to go away for a long time on a trip. They had taken her away, said the neighbours, they had taken her first to the Velodrome d’Hiver and then out to the camp at Drancy, from there it was off to the east, and no one ever came back from there. And Jonathan comprehended nothing of this event, it had totally confused him, and then a few days later his father had vanished as well, and Jonathan and his younger sister suddenly found themselves in a train heading south, and the next thing were being led across a meadow by total strangers and then tugged through a stretch of woods and once more put on a train heading to the south, far away, farther than they could ever comprehend, and an uncle, whom they had never seen before, picked them up in Cavaillon and brought them to his farm near the village of Puget in the valley of the Durance and kept them hidden there until the end of the war. Then he put them to work in his vegetable fields.

For a story that takes place in one day, The Pigeon is pretty intense, and you can feel Jonathan’s struggle as he gets more and more desperate to evade the pigeon and keep his life from falling apart.

“No human being can go on living in the same house with a pigeon, a pigeon is the epitomy of chaos and anarchy, a pigeon that whizzes around unpredictably, that sets it’s claws in you, picks at your eyes..

He had a mighty urge to pull out his pistol and let loose in every directon, right into the coffeehouse, smack through it’s glass windows, till there was nothing but crashing and tinkling, right into the middle of the ruck of cars or simply into the middle of one of the gigantic buildings across the way, those ugly, tall, menacing buildings, or into the air, straight up, into the heavens, yes, into the hot sky, into the horrible, oppressive, vaporous, pigeon blue-grey sky, bursting it, sending the leaden lid crashing with one shot, smashing down and pulverizing everything and burying it all, all of it, the whole miserable, dreary, loud, stinking world…”

While not as verbose as Perfume, I find that The Pigeon is more proof of Suskind’s prodigy, especially in developing highly complex characters with psychological conflicts. Like Perfume’s Jean Baptiste Grenouille, Jonathan Noel is yet another outcast and anti-hero, and another play at existentialism.  Suskind really gets into the psyche of his characters, which, given his elusive nature, makes me wonder how much of himself is written into his characters (scary thought!).

It’s a quick read that’s stunning and satisfying at the same time, and a must-read for fans of Perfume.


The Pigeon, hardcover with dust jacket, mooched from Iya
4/5 stars
Book #6 for 2010


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