Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Book of the Week - Stephen Kelman, Pigeon English

Pigeon English is a first novel which comes with a good deal of hype – it was the subject of a significant bidding war on the part of several publishers, and the full weight of a considerable publicity machine is behind it. Nonetheless, reviewers have been very positive. It employs the increasingly popular device of a first person child narrator, and addresses the rather trendy societal problems of the poor and disaffected urban black working class population. Central to the story is a stabbing (presumably inspired by Damilola Taylor), but the novel is humerous while addressing serious issues. Rather disappointingly, it is only released as a paperback (although in French folds). However, well worth picking up a signed copy.

Stephen Kelman was born in Luton in 1976. He had his first short story published in an anthology at the age of 16, and after finishing his degree he worked variously as a warehouse operative, a careworker, and in marketing and local government administration. He decided to pursue his writing seriously in 2005, and has completed several feature screenplays since then. Pigeon English is his first novel; he is currently working on his second.

“Newly arrived from Ghana with his mother and older sister, eleven-year-old Harrison Opoku lives on the ninth floor of a block of flats on a London housing estate. The second best runner in the whole of Year 7, Harri races through his new life in his personalised trainers - the Adidas stripes drawn on with marker pen - blissfully unaware of the very real threat all around him. With equal fascination for the local gang - the Dell Farm Crew - and the pigeon who visits his balcony, Harri absorbs the many strange elements of his new life in England: watching, listening, and learning the tricks of inner-city survival.
But when a boy is knifed to death on the high street and a police appeal for witnesses draws only silence, Harri decides to start a murder investigation of his own. In doing so, he unwittingly endangers the fragile web his mother has spun around her family to try and keep them safe. A story of innocence and experience, hope and harsh reality, PIGEON ENGLISH is a spellbinding portrayal of a boy balancing on the edge of manhood and of the forces around him that try to shape the way he falls.”

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