Review: ‘The Pigeon’ by Patrick Suskind

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - Save & Share - One Comment

Patrick Suskind is an author better known for his book Perfume (one which I have on my shelves but have not yet managed to read).  Although I’m trying not to buy books by authors I already have on the TBR pile unless it’s for the cause of completing a series, I found myself unable to resist this tiny hardback Bloomsbury Classic edition of The Pigeon when I spotted it for less than £1 in one of the Charing Cross Road book shops.  My guilt at buying it was assuaged somewhat by reading it from start to finish on the train home, so it was never really added to the TBR pile.  It may be a short book, but it’s a rather peculiar one.

The Pigeon tells the story of one day in the life of Jonathan Noel, a man whose existence is ordered to a fault.  He lost his parents when he was much younger during the war when he and his sister went into hiding, later went into the army and then moved to Paris where he took a small room and a job as a bank security guard, both of which he has held for twenty years at the beginning of the story.  He is content because of rather than in spite of his solitary, regimented existence, until the day when he opens his door in the morning to find a pigeon sitting outside.  Unable to follow his routine, Jonathan finds himself thrown into chaos as he is forced to leave his sanctuary of order and face the outside world.

The story begins in a way that instantly establishes Jonathan’s character:

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 alright 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.

This may seem hyperbolic, but is in fact perfectly in keeping with his reaction to the ominously named ‘pigeon affair’.  The seemingly harmless occurrence jolts him out of his secure and ordered regime, and Suskind does an excellent job of showing Johnathan’s deteriorating mental state as his thoughts and actions become increasingly frantic, and fairly mundane occurrences assume augmented significance in his mind.

I don’t want to say any more, as I think this is a book best discovered for oneself, but I definitely recommend it as an effective short story.  Lots of reviews compare it to Kafka and Poe, but as I’m not really familiar with either of these writers I can’t agree or disagree.  Perhaps I should become familiar with them if this story is anything to go by.

The Pigeon by Patrick Suskind, translated from the German by Alfred A. Knopf.  Published by Bloomsbury, 1995, pp. 124.  Originally published in 1987.

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One Response to “Review: ‘The Pigeon’ by Patrick Suskind”

Comment from Verity
Time June 22, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Oh I do love those Bloomsbury classics editions – not surprised you couldn’t resist!

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