The Pigeon – Patrick Süskind

Hehehehehe!! The Pigeon is a little bit ridiculous. I enjoyed reading something little bit ridiculous. It’s super short an succinct, and doesn’t really say all that much, but let’s delve into it more:

Our main character Jonathan Noel is in his fifties living in a tiny apartment (sounds like the size of the first place my husband and I lived in! Teensie!) in Paris. He’s a security guard at the bank, and has been for over 30 years. He was married once, but his wife left him, and as a child his parents were taken away during World War 2 – presumably killed by the Nazis.

All of this early history is glanced over, and for the most part this story focuses on one day in Jonathan’s life. It’s kind of hilarious.

He goes to perform his normal morning routine, heads out to use the communal bathroom, and everything goes awry when he sees a pigeon standing outside his door. See how Süskind describes this terrifying encounter:

It had laid its head to one side and was glaring at Jonathan with its left eye. This eye, a small, circular disc, brown with a black centre, was dreadful to behold. It was like a button sewn on to the feathers of the head, lashless, browless, quite naked, turned quite shamelessly to the world and monstrously open; at the same time, however, there was something guarded and devious in that eye; and yet likewise it seemed to be neither open nor guarded, but rather quite simply lifeless, like the lens of a camera that swallows all external light and allows nothing to shine back out of its interior. No lustre, no shimmer lay in that eye, not a sparkle of anything alive. It was an eye without sight. And it glared at Jonathan.

Bravo on using language to display why the presence of the pigeon is so shocking and terrifying to Jonathan! So he freaks out. He runs back inside and begins to plan. He has nearly paid off the apartment so he owns it, but he seriously considers giving it up because he thinks he can’t come back if the pigeon is there! The pigeon is a monster, who prowls the hallway and is imagined to never leave!

Jonathan packs a bag and books a hotel room for the night – he is seriously so concerned about this bird. He has a bad day at work. He’s uncomfortable, he daydreams and isn’t paying attention when a limousine pulls up and he needs to open the gate. He tears a giant hole in his pants on his lunch break, and has to sticky-tape it back together.

All throughout, he ponders his life and what it means. He’s also a bit of a hypochondriac – always waiting for death to come for him. There are some deep messages thrown in there.

And then, at the end of the book, Jonathan is startled awake by a crash of thunder. After a brief freak out, momentarily forgetting the last few decades of his life and believing him back at home as a child in his parents’ house – he leaves his motel room and heads home. In a poetic turn of events, he splashes through puddles again, just as he does as a child at the beginning of the book. We’ve come full circle.

Back at his apartment – the pigeon is gone.

The Pigeon is funny, trivial, bizarre and existentialist – all bundled into a short novella.

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