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?