#NovNov and #GermanLitMonth: The Pigeon and The Appointment

As literature in translation week of Novellas in November continues, I’m making a token contribution to German Literature Month as well. I’m aware that my second title doesn’t technically count towards the challenge because it was originally written in English, but the author is German, so I’m adding it in as a bonus. Both novellas feature an insular perspective and an unusual protagonist whose actions may be slightly difficult to sympathize with.

 

The Pigeon by Patrick Süskind (1987; 1988)

[Translated from the German by John E. Woods; 77 pages]

At the time the pigeon affair overtook him, unhinging his life from one day to the next, Jonathan Noel, already past fifty, could look back over a good twenty-year period of total uneventfulness and would never have expected anything of importance could ever overtake him again – other than death some day. And that was perfectly all right with him. For he was not fond of events, and hated outright those that rattled his inner equilibrium and made a muddle of the external arrangements of life.

What a perfect opening paragraph! Taking place over about 24 hours in August 1984, this is the odd little tale of a man in Paris who’s happily set in his ways until an unexpected encounter upends his routines. Every day he goes to work as a bank security guard and then returns to his rented room, which he’s planning to buy from his landlady. But on this particular morning he finds a pigeon not a foot from his door, and droppings all over the corridor. Now, I love birds, so this was somewhat difficult for me to understand, but I know that bird phobia is a real thing. Jonathan is so freaked out that he immediately decamps to a hotel, and his day just keeps getting worse from there, in comical ways, until it seems he might do something drastic. The pigeon is both real and a symbol of irrational fears. The conclusion is fairly open-ended, leaving me feeling like this was a short story or unfinished novella. It was intriguing but also frustrating in that sense. There’s an amazing description of a meal, though! (University library)

(Also reviewed by Cathy and Naomi.)

 

The Appointment by Katharina Volckmer (2020)

[96 pages]

This debut novella was longlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize – a mark of experimental style that would often scare me off, so I’m glad I gave it a try anyway. It’s an extended monologue given by a young German woman during her consultation with a Dr Seligman in London. As she unburdens herself about her childhood, her relationships, and her gender dysphoria, you initially assume Seligman is her Freudian therapist, but Volckmer has a delicious trick up her sleeve. A glance at the titles and covers of foreign editions, or even the subtitle of this Fitzcarraldo Editions paperback, would give the game away, so I recommend reading as little as possible about the book before opening it up. The narrator has some awfully peculiar opinions, especially in relation to Nazism (the good doctor being a Jew), but the deeper we get into her past the more we see where her determination to change her life comes from. This was outrageous and hilarious in equal measure, and great fun to read. I’d love to see someone turn it into a one-act play. (New purchase)

A favourite passage:

But then we are most passionate when we worship the things that don’t exist, like race, or money, or God, or, quite simply, our fathers. God, of course, was a man too. A father who could see everything, from whom you couldn’t even hide in the toilet, and who was always angry. He probably had a penis the size of a cigarette.

19 responses

  1. I should re-read The Pigeon, and Perfume. Can’t remember much about either from decades ago. I still have my copies, so next year perhaps.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He’s a very distinctive writer. Perfume I remember being considerably nastier than this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for joining #germanlitmonth. BTW I will add Volckmer’s book to the GLM XI author index. It’s what I categorise as a legitimate “rule-breaker”. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, that’s very kind of you to include it!

      Like

  3. I quite enjoyed The Pigeon but shared some of your reservations. I had really hoped to get to The Appointment this month, but it hasn’t worked out. Sounds great though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’ll be waiting for you next year (or earlier, if you wish!). A terrific read.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. […] The Pigeon and The Appointment for German Literature Month and Novellas in November (Rebecca at Bookish Beck) […]

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  5. Two very interesting ones! I just discovered a NetGalley book I innocently started over a lunch not suitable for holding a book is yet ANOTHER novella and now I’m worrying how I’m going to fit them all in!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha, I feel very much the same way. I started SO many novellas this month but inevitably won’t finish them all before the last day.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. […] I said about The Appointment, this would make a really interesting play because it is so voice-driven and each character […]

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  7. You already know I love The Pigeon (Thanks for linking to my review!), but The Appointment also sounds good! I wonder how easy it will be to get my hands on…
    I love odd, funny little novellas.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Turns out not very hard – we have it at one of our library branches!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, ha ha, our comments overlapped! I think you’ll enjoy it. If you’re able to set aside some time in an afternoon, you could easily read it in one sitting. I wish I’d done that.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I will *try* to fit it in before the end of the month! *laughs at self*

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    2. I know it also came out in the USA last year, so it’s possible you’d find it in Canada, too. It’s odd for sure!

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  8. Hah, that’s quite a quotation indeed! I think I’d love a whole shelf of Fitzcarraldos…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Back when they exclusively published essays and novellas, I read almost everything they published. Now that they’ve moved into longer and more experimental stuff, I pick and choose a couple titles per year.

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  9. […] Carsten The Trustee 1 Immensee 1 The Dykemaster 1 Seethaler The Tobacconist 1 Süsskind The Pigeon 1 Suter The Last Weynfeldt 1 Stifter Motley Stones 1 Walser The Assistant 1 2 Wedekind The Seducer 1 […]

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