Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Pigeon (Book Review)

As with Patrick Suskind's The Pigeon, so it goes for much of human existence. Even those who don't shut out people block themselves off from something. If there's anything I can say in defense of the main character, Jonathan, it's that he was at least content for those 30 years. His may have been a false security, but most people never find even that.

But it's hard to not feel sorry for him, even before the pigeon... even as he's enjoying his quiet little existence; his wine and soup; the books on his handmade shelves. He's quite alone, and is terrified of anything that breaches from his routine. He's content so long as everything is the same.

Seems somehow crude to reduce The Pigeon's moral to a simple "Don't cry over spilt milk," insofar as I know from experience that some days are filled with little else. There's a puddle at both feet; a sticky spot on our otherwise clean shirt; and a crusty residue we can't seem to wipe from our lips. In short: everything is spilt milk. But it only takes a few drops to make a puddle. And a few puddles to fill a creek. And so on, until before you realize it one tiny, infinitismal thing serves as a scapegoat for all that has gone wrong in our life.

Jonathan doesn't have a bad day post-Pigeon sighting. He undergoes a much needed enlightenment. But it's hard to say, ultimately, what will come of it. Either way, Suskind's prose flows beautifully (I wish I could read the original German), and some of his descriptions are poetry. Two passages that stand out with me: Jonathan's visit with the seamstress, when her fingers touch the flesh of his thigh (likely his first human contact in years), and the sound of the rain falling on the hotel rooftop.

It did remind me an awful lot of Henry James' "Beast in the Jungle," which I've always thought highly of. A very different writing style (though nevertheless well-crafted) to a similar end.

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