October 15, 2011

Pigeon English - Stephen Kelman

Pigeon English is one of the shortlisted book for this years Man Booker Prize and it would have to be the first book from the list that I have been disappointed in.
Pigeon English has been compared to Room (which I was also disappointed in) and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (which I loved completely) so I went into the read thinking I had a 50/50 chance of coming out with a winner. I think the only real reason for the comparison between the three books is that they all use a child as the key narrator.
The narrator of Pigeon English is Harrison Opuku, a year 7 student living in the housing projects of London. Harrison, his mother and older sister Lydia have immigrated to England from Ghana and the rest of their family, including their father and 1 year old sister remain in Ghana. The book opens with the murder of a boy who Harrison knew in a distant way:

Me and the dead boy were only half friends, I didn't see him very much because he was older and he didn't go to my school. He could ride his bike with no hands and you never even wanted him to fall off. I said a prayer for him inside my head. It just said sorry.

Harrison and one of his friends become fixated on trying to work out who killed the boy through the use of their amateur detectives skills and knowledge. Harrison introduces us to his neighbourhood, his friends and his enemies at school and his family. It is through his often naive, trusting and young eyes that we begin to see what may have happened to the boy who died and what might be going on in Harrison's own family that he is not aware of. The pigeon of the title is in fact a pigeon that lives around Harrison's tower complex, Harrison sees the pigeon as a friend and ally and the pigeon (who can speak english as the title suggests) sees itself as a type of guardian for Harrison.
I loved Harrison and his voice in this book - I loved hearing from him and about him and I loved seeing his perspective of the world. For some reason though this was not enough for me to fall in love with this book and be carried away by the story. I found myself feeling bored in places, and then extremely engaged and interested in others - maybe it was this lack of consistency that made this book a little disappointing for me.


Arti said...

Thanks for posting about this book. I'm always interested to read the Man Booker list. But since time is so limited and there are lots of TBR's, I appreciate honest opinion like yours. I'm also glad to find someone who, like me, thinks Room disappoints. Sometimes it's just hard to throw negative comments on widely popular books.

Marg said...

It wasn't the talking pigeon which did it for you?

I wasn't totally enamoured with this book but it did remind me of living in a similar tower block when I lived in the UK.

Unknown said...

I agree with everything you say (apart from the bit about Room being disappointing - I loved that book!) This book did have some great bits, but some sections were so dull/weird. Lack of consistency was probably my biggest problem with it.

Ellie said...

I think that there's too many books around with child narrators and it's hard for them to be convincing. I don't think any of the Booker books are taking my fancy this year.

Karen said...

Hi Arti - I know what you mean about there being so many books to read!! I don't think there were too many people who weren't in love with Room but it sounds like we are two of them!

Hi Marg - I actually didn't mind the talking pigoen - I thought that was kind of sweet - but I can see a lot fo other peopple had a problem with it!

Hi Jackie - I do remember that you loved Room! I really wanted to like this one but as we have said - it just didn't go together well enough unfortunately.

Hi Ellie - I must admit I thought that about the Booker list this year too but apart from this one I have really enjoyed reading all of the others.

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