I’m not sure if it’s simply because he is European, but Patrick Suskind’s novella, The Pigeon (written after his more famous work, Perfume), reads as though it was written by someone on a bad trip. Perhaps it’s just a sign of Europe’s ability to make anything quirky (as a thoroughly boring Australian – I intend that as a compliment), but throughout Suskind’s short story all I could keep thinking was ‘What the hell am I reading?’ Once again, this is intended as a compliment.
Set in a single day in the life of Parisian Jonathan Noel, The Pigeon depicts the unravelling of a man’s life. Jonathan Noel lives a solitary life as a bank’s security guard – and although his job is boring, his hours long and his home small, it is a life that he has lovingly cultivated for himself. Intent on his retirement, Noel has created a quiet peaceful in his mind until he reaches that day. Without friends, family or a lover, it appears that no one will get in the way of his ultimate goal – that is, until he meets The Pigeon.
Located in the hallway of his boarding home, The Pigeon (I feel the capitalisation is necessary) focuses his beady eyes on Jonathan and the latter subsequently has a downfall. From what starts as an ordinary day quickly spirals into the depths of hell, as Jonathan has an existential crisis and begins to question his future in the world.
Needless to say, this book was more philosophy than it was plot. The outlines of the novel – man loses control after seeing a pigeon – seems ridiculous, but of course they all act as metaphors for something far more thought-provoking. Granted, I enjoyed The Pigeon even when I took away the philosophical context if only for the imagery of a man losing a staring contest with a pigeon. Plus, hey! Some people are terrified of birds. For example, I’m terrified of crocodiles, so if one decided to take residence in my home then there’s a highly likely chance of my refusing to return home ever again.
Surprisingly, considering the few number of characters, dialogue or plot, I enjoyed The Pigeon far more than Suskind’s more famous novel, Perfume. Perhaps because on some level I felt for poor Jonathan, he who has had his perfect peace shattered, but also because the character is Perfume creeped the hell out of me.
The Pigeon isn’t for the faint-hearted or those who can’t ‘read between the lines’ so to speak, but it is only about 90 pages and can easily be knocked off in a couple of hours. Essentially, it’s a bit of a laugh about a serious topic wrapped in a ridiculous one, so I have to give Patrick Suskind credit for successfully pulling off The Pigeon and its outrageous plot line.
Have you read The Pigeon? Are you a fan of Patrick Suskind or philosophical novels? Let me know!