Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2011

Borrowed from my library.   I’ve been waiting for it to come in  since I heard about it on the Guardian website, back in early spring.  It is now on the longlist for the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

Harri Opuku, eleven years old and recently emigrated from Ghana, lives in a huge London housing project and loves to run.  When he finds himself standing near the body of a classmate whose blood has covered the walkway, stabbed by someone who probably lives in the same area.  He is driven, along with his friend Dean, to find the killer.

Stephen Kelman has created a character straight out of his personal history.  Harri is very like many eleven year old boys I know, curious, filled with excitement and the desire to grow up.  My favorite parts were his memories of life in Ghana, and the comparison with Harri’s present life.

Harri worked for me but other parts of this novel just didn’t hold together.  The other characters seem shallow, as if lifted out of a bad TV  series, and the inclusion of Harri’s pigeon seemed odd and out-of-place.  I’d love to have a glimpse of Kelman’s thinking behind that, and his need to write from Harri’s point-of view in the first place.

I think Pigeon English reads like a novel for young adults and I don’t quite understand why it made the Booker long list in the first place.  But that’s just me.  Have you read it?  What do you think?


Filed under Booker, LiteraryFiction, Review

14 responses to “Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

  1. I always wonder what makes people decide one book is YA and another book isn’t. The Book Thief is YA but this isn’t? So weird.

  2. There have been a couple awards in the past where I felt like a couple of the books were more YA than adult. Then, there is the tricky issue of young narrators… Sometimes they can be considered an adult book, but more often than not I always feel like I am reading YA. It’s a weird system.

    • I’ve read plenty of books with young narrators that fit into both YA and adult categories. The whole marketing thing is definitely weird!

  3. I read another review that mentioned the book was missing something, so I think I’ll be passing on this one.

  4. I’ve read this and wasn’t very impressed either. I’m not sure I’d describe it as a YA book though – it was a bit too confusing for that. I agree about the pigeon…weird!!

  5. I wasn’t a fan of this one either. At times it did feel a bit young adult with the crudeness, but it also felt a bit odd in other ways. Regardless, I agree with your confusion of why it made the Booker longlist.

    • This years Booker longlist has started some interesting discussions. I still plan on reading the books I can get a hold of but I’m finding the discussions more interesting then the books I’ve read so far!

  6. Ti

    Your comments are similar to the others I’ve read. People don’t quite understand how it made the list. It’s on my list to read, but with the recent comments I’ve read, I am not that anxious to get to it.

  7. I’ve been hearing mixed opinion of this book and I was really looking forward to this one. I will probably be reading this book this weekend, but I’ll remember to lower my expectations.

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