Jonathan Noel is a bank guard. A tragic childhood followed by a disappointing marriage results in a risk-adverse Noel who takes great pleasure in the uniformity and predictability of the life he has created. He has lived in the same bed sit and stayed at the same job for over thirty years, happy with his bachelorhood, his routine and life in general. Until one morning, on his way to the communal bathroom he is stopped in his tracks by a rogue pigeon that has made its way into the building. The effect that this pigeon has on Noel is immediate and immense and what follows is a day where all routine is thrown off, where everything he depends on is shaken.
In a few weeks I will be “celebrating” my ten year anniversary at my place of employment. When I started, it was only ever going to be a short term measure. My eldest child had turned three, I was going to go back and finish my University degree and then move onto something brighter and better. But I didn’t and suddenly it is ten years later. There are many aspects of my life that are fulfilling and I am very lucky to have the life I do, but as this anniversary approaches I have been thinking about the drudgery of my job, the monotony and repetition and just how quickly this ten years has come up and kicked me in the butt. So when I picked this book up and started reading on a certain level there was something about this kooky and unsettling story that resonated with me. Noel settled on his life and quickly enough for him, thirty years passed quickly. For him though, the repetitiveness and monotony is comforting and when that comfort is shattered by the random appearance and perceived menacing of a pigeon, this is enough to set off in him a violent reaction.
No human being can go on living in the same house with a pigeon, a pigeon is the epitome of chaos and anarchy, a pigeon that whizzes around unpredictably, that sets it’s claws in you, picks at your eyes…
So how comfortable can he be in his self-imposed bubble that he has placed around himself when it can be destroyed by the appearance of one, solitary pigeon? But what a pigeon. The Pigeon is what I refer to as a bite-size book, a novella that allows you to fully appreciate and absorb the story in one sitting and does in no way suffer for its brevity. Süskind is masterful at fully immersing the reader into the mind of this seemingly mild bank guard and fully understanding how the appearance of a bird can upset his life and then go on to force him to look at everything around him in a new way. We understand why Noel is the way he is, we get enough of a taste of his life to feel the apprehension and menace and the subsequent unravelling and then progression to lesson learnt.
This is the second Süskind book on the list, and perhaps less known then the popular Perfume. Having cheated and seen the movie and not yet having read Perfume (although very eager) the same psychological element is clear and is obviously a strength. Many have likened his style to Kafka, which I am unable to confirm having not read any of the later (for shame, I know) due to a question of it going a bit over my head. But what is wonderful about this novella is that it is so clear and accessible without sacrificing anything in terms of writing and language. And it has made me a bit less apprehensive at tackling Kafka also. A great read that has made me quite desperate to get my hands on Perfume.