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Patrick Süskind: Die Taube (The Pigeon)

Jonathan Noel is your typical Süskind hero – a loner, an outsider and French. His parents were both deported and he and his sister went to live with their uncle. After his military service, in which he was wounded, he returned home to find that his sister had emigrated to Canada, without telling him. His uncle persuaded him to marry. He and his wife have a son but, instead of the peace and quiet he hoped for, his wife and son also left him, running off with a Tunisian. Finally, he moved to Paris, where he got a job as a watchman and found a quite flat, thereby hoping for peace and tranquillity. And then the pigeon came.

He got up one morning and opened the door to go to the toilet. And there was the pigeon in the corridor. He fell back into his room, fearing a heart attack. And now he can no longer leave his room. He has to urinate in the sink and only with an effort of will, is he able to pack a few things in order to move into a hotel, fearful of the pigeon feathers and shit in the corridor. He goes to the bank but he is unable to do his job properly, so worried is he about the pigeon. At his lunch break, he manages to rent a hotel room but tears his trousers in the park. The rest of the day is torture for him and he spends a difficult night, made worse by a loud storm. He has a nightmare and when he awakes, he realises that he has to go back home to his flat.

Of course, fear of the pigeon is irrational. It is neither particularly threatening nor dangerous. Yet, Jonathan, in a Kafkaesque moment, is mortally afraid of it, to the point of almost dying. Why? It does not matter. He is afraid. That is all. Whether it is a symbol of fear, of contact with some deep-rooted terror or inadequacy or simply fear of contact with a living being, Süskind shows us the effect of this fear on a simple man, who cannot properly relate to other human beings, not least because of his own previous experiences with people. As with Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in Parfum (Perfume), people are just not be trusted and Jonathan feels this as much as Grenouille, even if he manifests it in a different way. Not as good as Parfum (Perfume) but still a fine book.

Publishing history

First published 1987 by Diogenes
Translated by John E. Woods