Saturday, 13 August 2011

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman (House of Anansi Press 2011)

The narrator, Harri Opoku, is an 11 year old recent Ghanaian immigrant who moved over to England with his mother, aunt Sonia and sister Lydia. They live on the Dell Farm housing estate in South London. When a kid gets stabbed  to death outside chicken restaurant, Harri and his CSI loving friend Dean decide that it's their duty to investigate and unearth the killer and on an estate where the Dell Farm Crew rule they are not short of suspects.

The title is something of a play on words referring both to the mixed Ghanaian and South London pidgin of the narrator (words and phrases like 'asweh', 'hutious' and 'advise yourself' abound) and because of his fascination with a wild pigeon who one day flew into their ninth floor flat and from then one believes is watching over him  ready to poop on anyone who threatens him. In some of the most clawing and hackneyed passages we are treated the philosophical musings of the pigeon itself.

Reading the booker prize novels has taught me something about myself. Starting with Room last year and now Pigeon English I have learnt that I cannot stand to read narration written from the perspective of a child simply because I believe that a narrative is far too important to be left to such an undeveloped mindset. Harri's thought-processes are so frenetic and changeable one would imagine it giving the novel a certain pace but instead it is just becomes tiring.

Partly inspired by the stabbing of the Nigerian schoolboy Damiola Taylor in 2000 the book taps in on the prevalence of  gang culture and knife crime in the council estates of London. Because it is one of few if any novels that attempts to deal with this issue, it is a novel that will do very well whether or not it is artistically merited. It wont be too long before this graces the syllabuses of the United Kingdom and the BBC have already commissioned an adaptation. I also expect it to make it through to the shortlist but sadly I don't think it merits it.



nomadreader said...

I adored Room (and was surprised how much I liked the child narrator in it), but I was not a big fan of Pigeon English. The narration was a burden, and I didn't find much intrigue in the story itself either. I expect to see it on the shortlist too, but so far it's my least favorite of this year's longlist.

Paolo said...

I wasn't a fan of Room but I can see why people were, its pacing was very good, especially around the chapters dealing with the escape it developed a real sense of purpose and I think that's what Pigeon English really lacked. There just wasn't much of a story arc, in its place there was just a 'plot sentence' every now and then mixed into the rambling narrative.

Do you have a favourite so far?