For me, this is much more like it. Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English is an odd and beautiful and heartbreaking and painful and very, very funny book.
An unfortunate bout of illness gave me the chance to hammer through it in just a couple of days, making this challenge (all the booker prize books, before the winner is announced) seem a little less unscaleable. Though only marginally, as I’ve only just noticed I only have two weeks left!
Anyway, the book’s the thing, so let’s talk about that. The narrator is an 11 year old Ghanaian boy living in a block of flats on an inner city housing estate. The world around him is fairly brutal and stark, but we see it through eyes filled with wonder and superstition and fear and confidence and love and naivety and vision.
With a limited vocabulary, including plenty of never explained slang and mishearings, and over explained turns of phrase, Harrison Opoku has such a strong and distinctive voice that you’re taken right into his world. It seems to pull just short of seeming contrived, and allows you to sink in wonder into moments that would seem cliché and trite if explained in more elaborate terms. The delight of rain splashing into your face, the thrill of running until if feels like you’re flying or just the shout of a loving baby sister on the other end of the phone; it all seems so much more vivid and honest through the narrators eyes.
The bright and vivid world is haunted by suffering. Often just out of range of Harrison’s understanding, we see a world of abuse, trafficking and violence. Other times its clear what’s going on, but Harrison’s mind moves too fast to dwell on fear for too long, and it’s only part of you that doesn’t get dragged along with it.
This leaves some truly dramatic moments haunting you after you put the book down, etched vividly, despite the sparseness of the language.
The book is incredibly inspiring, and utterly bleak, both simultaneously. We end up with an honest portrait of the adult world through the eyes of an honest child. All the things we’d usually miss, for better or worse, shown up glowing and precise.
And I think I may love pigeons now.
Alex – Library Officer
If you’d like to check out the book for yourself, you can view it on the library catalogue and reserve it here.