Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman **possible spoilers ahead**
The book opens with the murder of a young boy on the estate who Harri vaguely remembers as being good at basketball. Now he and his friend Dean, who watches a lot of CSI, have decided to try and solve the boy's murder themselves with a lot of TV knowledge and a set of carnival won, toy binoculars whilst the police are being met by locals with a wall of silence.
Around this we have Harri's life in the melting pot that is London with his love of Poppy and her yellow hair, to the local gang the Dell Farm Crew and whether or not he'll pass their tests and, on top of all that, trying to act the man of the house until his dad, little sister and grandma make it over to join them - and it all seems so much for a young boy, but he accepts it with his happy, straightforward manner (making sure he has a plan of action ready in case someone comes into the flat).
I found the way that Kelman wrote in this young boy's 'pigeon english' style to be rather endearing and at times added humour to the situation. He had a wide-eyed innocence about him, even when describing the most non-innocent things, that made you want to wrap him in cotton wool and hope he never loses his love of the simple things. It made things like the in-your-face violence, sexual activity and general callousness that much worse because of how it's being seen through the eyes of a boy.
This book really had me hooked from the get go and the characters and situations were definitely believeable. The added, occasional voice of the pigeon that Harri befriends - whilst not much liked by some other readers - does have it's purpose, which begins to become clearer towards the end. This more educated prose from the other watcher had me starting to guess at what was coming next which made me not want to reach the end but at the same time, I needed to know.
Due to it's setting and the narrator's way of speaking, some non-English readers may find some of the dialogue a bit hard to get your head around - have an English friend close at hand, just in case. Even I had the occasional hiccup with trying to understand what wa sbeing said, but Harri does like to explain things to us, just in case.
Although not stated anywhere, except a nod in the acknowledgements, anyone who followed the story of Damilola Taylor will be able to relate the two stories. This is a beautiful book in a terrible setting that will have you laughing, scared and crying (yes, I'll admit it, I cried). A must read and, I believe, well worth the shortlist nomination and my favourite of all six books. I find it hard to believe that the manuscript was languishing in a pile for a long time before it started a bidding war.