Summary of "The Pigeon" by Patrick Suskind

by Petra Turnbull
A pigeon outside the door instills great fear in Patrick Suskind's protagonist.

A pigeon outside the door instills great fear in Patrick Suskind's protagonist.

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"The Pigeon," published in the U.S. in 1988, is the second book by German writer Patrick Suskind, whose debut novel "The Perfume" was an international bestseller and has been made into a movie. The book is mainly set in Paris and follows one day in the life of Jonathan Noel, whose structured life starts falling apart after the appearance of a pigeon on his doorstep.


In the beginning of the book, we learn about Jonathan's childhood and arranged marriage. During World War II, his parents are taken away and sent to concentration camps, forcing him and his sister to hide with an uncle they have never seen before. After the war, Jonathan serves in the French army, and upon his return home his uncle demands that he marry a woman he's never even seen before. Four months after the wedding, a son is born, and both mother and child shortly after leave him. Jonathan moves to Paris, where he is employed as a security guard by a bank.

The Pigeon

Upon arrival in Paris, Jonathan first rents and then agrees to buy a room with toilet access in the hallway. He only has one installment of the mortgage left and uses the room as his sanctuary, which he only leaves to go to work. One morning, Jonathan opens the door to use the bathroom and finds a pigeon sitting outside in the hallway. A sudden fear of the unknown is instilled in him, and he finds himself unable to pass the pigeon. Jonathan retreats to his room, empties his bladder in the kitchen sink and, convinced that the pigeon has come to stay, decides to take a room in a hotel with the intention of never returning to his room again. He packs up some of his belongings and flees the apartment, telling the concierge about the animal before he rushes to work.


The incident with the pigeon is followed by a disastrous day at work, at least according to Jonathan's standards. He first forgets his duty to open the bank manager's limousine door, then tears his uniform trousers during the lunch break. While trying to get his trousers sorted, his pleas to a seamstress for a quick fix are rudely rejected as the lady has a three-week backlog. Exhausted from the events of the day, Jonathan buys a cold dinner and takes a room in a cheap hotel. When stretching out on the bed, he decides to take his life the next day.


During the night, a thunderstorm breaks and awakes a disoriented and confused Jonathan. Believing that he is still a child at home in his parents' house, he thinks he only has dreamed up his uneventful life as an adult. He packs up his belongings and leaves the hotel, dancing in the puddles on the street. When he reaches his neighborhood, apprehension rises in him, but he walks up to his room and finds the pigeon gone.


  • "The Pigeon"; Patrick Süskind; Translation by John E Wood; Penguin 1992; ISBN 014017365X
  • "Die Taube"; Patrick Süskind; Diogenes Verlag 1987; ISBN 325721846X

About the Author

Based in the U.K., Petra Turnbull has been working as a journalist since 1989. Her articles on the film and book trades have been published in "Screen International," "Dagens Naringsliv," "Film Magasinet" and other Scandinavian newspapers and magazines. She now manages her own book shop. Turnbull holds degrees in law and economics from Goethe University, Germany and Oslo Business School in Norway.

Photo Credits

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