By Benjamin J.N. Harrison
Of all the novels I have read, perhaps none have better prepared me for adulthood than Patrick Süskind’s The Pigeon. Above anything else, I took away from the novel that middle-aged men are angry, depressed, and self-loathing; such emotions can be provoked by the most seemingly insignificant of things: a rip in one’s pants, a pigeon at one’s doorstep, a milk carton accidentally left unattended. These cause trouble enough to launch a man in his fifties into a heart attack; at least, that’s what Süskind would have you believe. Well, perhaps I am exaggerating a little. Of course, The Pigeon deals with the listed instances, but something lay much deeper behind the seemingly inappropriate reactions to such trivial events.
The Pigeon tells the story of Jonathan Noel, a friendless fiftysomething bank security guard in Paris. Throughout his life, Noel has become accustomed to abandonment; he lost his parents during World War II, and three months into his marriage, his wife left him for a Tunisian fruit merchant. Due to these experiences, Noel has adopted the philosophy that people are not to be depended upon; Noel seems content with his solitary life, however, and continues to lead it peacefully until the pigeon incident, a seemingly small event that thrusts Noel into a neurotic misery of sorts – an existential crisis, if you will.
One morning, when Noel leaves the room of his apartment, he encounters a small, red-taloned pigeon roosting in front of his door. This seemingly insignificant event is enough to unhinge Noel’s life into a chaotic angst; Noel’s entire life was leading to this moment; the last straw in his sanity, the one minor event that topples the pile of suppressed sorrows and angers. The rest of the novel centers around the aftermath of this event, following Noel through the span of one dismal day, as his sense of composure falters.
The Pigeon’s prose is subtle and lucidly told, but still retains its anxious dread; at under one hundred pages, one could complete the book within a mere hour or two. Among other things, the book explores the concept of a wasted life; it instils in the reader a fear of regret. Pessimistic and gloomy, The Pigeon does not compliment the reader; rather, it reminds one that when one does not seize an opportunity, the only person at fault is oneself. The Pigeon is a reminder that there will come a day when no more opportunities will exist, when one simply will not be able to achieve their goals in life. Unfortunately, far too many can relate to investing too much time in a dead-end relationship or job, only to crave deeply a risky escape and movement toward one’s dreams.
Moreover, The Pigeon explores the hatred that is often birthed by a mental breakdown; the downright cruel detestation Noel cultivates for his fellow man following the pigeon incident is, yes, ridiculous, but also far too real and far too human. Prior to his crisis, Jonathan envies the nomad he always sees across the street, but after, he is repulsed as he watches him do his business for all to see. When one suffers from mental pain, one can often feel as if one is the only person in the world feeling an anxiety that acute, resulting in a superiority complex of sorts.
The Pigeon is furthermore a novel that does not take itself all that seriously; sure, its subject matter is relatively mature, but the author does not completely abandon humor. There were quite a few instances of unexpected humor in this novel, some of which had me audibly chuckling to myself as I read. When a novel manages to communicate a fundamental aspect of the human condition while avoiding pretention, it succeeds.
With concise and unequivocal prose, Süskind tells the greatly enjoyable, albeit depressing, unfolding of a middle-aged man’s existential crisis. It demonstrates how one minor event can color one’s entire world. It reminds the young to seize opportunities and the old to blame themselves for not seizing opportunities. Süskind’s The Pigeon is memorable, pessimistic, and surprisingly funny.
Buy Here: https://www.amazon.ca/Pigeon-Patrick-Suskind/dp/0394563158
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