Thursday, October 20, 2011

Stephen Kelman, PIGEON ENGLISH

Shattering first novel about a boy from Ghana who has just moved to the London projects with his mother and two sisters. He's eleven and observant (which is charming for the reader, but deadly for the boy), and despite the senseless murder that opens the book, and the fallout from it, his voice remains frank and hopeful: "Manik's papa's quite hutious. He's always red-eyes. He knows swordfighting. Asweh, I'm glad I'm not Manik's enemy! Manik's papa put my tie on for me and made the knot. He showed me how to take the tie off without untying it. You just make a hole big enough to get your head through then you take the tie off over your head That way you don't have to tie the tie every day. It even works. Now I'll never have to tie my tie my whole life. I beat the tie at his own game!"
Harri has several (human) friends and also finds a friend in a pigeon that flies into his window--a benevolent pigeon whose voice comes in italics and who is an intermediary between the boy and God. (Sounds bizarre, but it works.) The narrative has two levels--Harri's 11-year-old related experience of the violent events around him and the reader's experience, for the boy's narrative reveals more than he knows. Beautifully done.

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