The Pigeon – Patrick Süskind

Patrick Süskind’s novel ‘Perfume’ has to be one of my all time favourite books (I have popped my top 40 back on the blog though it seriously needs updating) and one that I think I have read at least twice maybe three times, the first back when I was in my late teens and the tale still haunts me now. Rather naively of me I thought he hadn’t written anything else, rather like Arundhati Roy – hurry up with a new one please, until I was perusing my mothers endless bookshelves when I went for a visit and found (and borrowed) his novella ‘The Pigeon’.

‘The Pigeon’ is a strange little tale in many ways. In only 77 pages Süskind gives you a rather unusual and momentous day in the life of Jonathan Noel. What makes this work all the more is that in the first five pages you have pretty much been given his life, which equates to his parents vanishing, living with horrid relatives, serving for the army and then having thirty years of the utterly mundane and simply working to eat and by a room with a shared toilet in Paris. That is until the day a pigeon is sat on his doorstep as he tries to go to the bathroom, something that causes Jonathan to have a complete nervous breakdown, to both comic and emotional extremes, which seems to have been waiting to happen for forty or so years.  

I don’t want to say any more as being a novella my review could easily go on for as long as the book and I don’t want to give anymore away. I will say as Jonathan’s day slowly got worse I found myself both laughing more and worrying more all at once. I also really empathized with him because of how Süskind writes his emotions and frustrations. When he rips his trousers you are completely there with him, you know how it feels – the humilation, the anger at the trousers and then at yourself, it’s very well done.

I couldn’t compare it to ‘Perfume’ but then I wouldn’t want to. I don’t think you can compare any two works of one author especially when one is as successful as ‘Perfume’. I can say that ‘The Pigeon’ has reminded me why I love Perfume so much, Süskind can put you into the mind of people who at first seem ordinary and show you all their quirks, he cam also take you to beautiful cities like Paris and darken them with his words without making anything grandly gothic or overdone. It will also have you wondering what small incident or happening could change your life forever.

A book that will: remind you of how great authors can put you in the minds of people you would never normally think like. 7/10 (would have been higher but I still can’t work out, after a good few days of this settling, if the ending is truly genius or a complete anti-climax)

Savidge suggests perfect prose partners;

Beside The Sea by Veronique Olmi (puts you in the head of a truly original and unusual narrator – shan’t say more than that)
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark (possibly my favourite novella so far and written by a wonderful author who everyone should try)

Has anyone else read ‘The Pigeon’? Who also loves ‘Perfume’? Which other books by Süskind have any of you read?


Filed under Patrick Süskind, Penguin Books, Review

23 responses to “The Pigeon – Patrick Süskind

  1. Ooh, serendipitously I considered picking up a copy of this over the weekend to read. I actually didn’t finish Perfume years ago (for book group, no less) but that was more to do with timing and circumstance than my enjoyment of it.

    • I grabbed it last week because it was short hahaha, mine is Mum’s copy which she signed and dated in Dec’ 91 not the lovely copy on my post lol. I think Perfume is one of only tenish titles I have re-read more than once, I love it – despite its darkness.

  2. m

    Maybe I should try this again. I read it years ago and was so disappointed that it wasn’t another Perfume.

  3. Rob

    Sounds good. Added to the wishlist. Thanks Simon

    • It’s a good little novella. I wasnt keen on novella’s but now thanks to book judging I am going to be looking at more to read between contenders so if you can recommend more go for it!

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  5. Eva

    I might start with this one, since I’ve seen the film version of Perfume and like to get to know a new author w/o preconceptions. But it sounds like I definitely need to read Perfuse at some point-good thing I picked up a copy at my last library sale!

    • The film is such a bad version of the book, I had to quit watching it I was getting so angry. It’s a brilliant dark and slightly disturbing book and we all need one of those now and again.

  6. Can I just say how lovely the cover is…

    Read Perfume a long, long time ago; it was one of the books that “did the rounds” of the book shop I worked in, as everyone was raving about it. I’m horrified to think that was, oooh, well, almost 20 YEARS ago!

    • I dont have the cover shown (I know, I know but I loved this one) the have done the same to Perfume which looks gorgeous too! Mine was my Mums copy bought in Dec ’91 according to the inscription – she writes in books, and dog ears them… I think its unforgivable, anyway…

      My mum gave me Perfume to read when I was about 14 and it left such an impression on me, I think it was the first ‘book for grown ups’ proper I read. So my sister reading Pride and Prejudice at 12 annoys me!

  7. gaskella

    Ashamed to say I read it, and can’t remember it at all. Loved Perfume though – must re-read both.

  8. Norman

    Hi from Oz again Simon,

    Other delicious Suskind books for you to try are “The Double-bass”, the beautiful children’s book “The Story of Mr Sommer”[drawings by Sempe] and his new meditation ” on LOVE and DEATH”.This concludes with Orpheus and Jesus comparing their different experiences of death conquered by love!

    I am just preparing to go on a holiday to Singapore so I think I will re-read “Perfume” again, 3rd time. The only other novels I have read 3 times are “The Devil’s Advocate” by Morris West, “Utz” by Bruce Chatwin and “Silas Marner” by George Eliot

    Regards, Norman.

    • Hi Norman,

      I think that The Doble Bass might be the one I try next, I have seen he has done some other novella’s which seem to be harder to track down but I will add them to my Christmas list.

      I havent read any of the other three books you have read that often… I might have to try them!

  9. I think this sounds quite good, although I was indifferent to Perfume I did love the style of writing and its certainly one that Ill never forget. I like the idea of the humour in this one. Funny how no one can not talk about this without mentioning Perfume though.

  10. She

    Perfume was fabulous! I actually saw the movie version before I read the book, and was pleased with both for different reasons. This might have also been because Alan Rickman had a role in the film.

    Beautiful cover as well.

  11. Since I am hoping to go to Chennai on Friday I went back to your link re your top books and have made a note of several which are new to me! Neel Mukherjee’s books are not available at Landmark and I am so disappointed as its one of the biggest bookshops in Chennai. After reading your review it has remained on the top of my “to be purchased” pile. I do hope some bookshop would have it there. Its not available in Colombo either!

    • Shame about Mukherjee as its utterly brilliant. I wonder if its the subject matter, I do hope not. Try the book depository as the shipping is free if you really want to read it!

      Blogger Novel Insights is in Colombo at the moment!!

  12. This sounds like a really interesting book, I’ll be on the lookout for both it and Perfume.

  13. I liked Perfume in a page-turner sort of way, but I absolutely adore The Pigeon. With that novella, in my view, Suesskind really showed what master story-teller he is.

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