on August 13, 2011
The narrator, Harri Opoku, is an 11 year old recent Ghanaian immigrant who moved over to England with his mother, aunt Sonia and sister Lydia. They live on the Dell Farm housing estate in South London. When a kid gets stabbed to death outside chicken restaurant, Harri and his CSI loving friend Dean decide that it's their duty to investigate and unearth the killer and on an estate where the Dell Farm Crew rule they are not short of suspects.
The title is something of a play on words referring both to the mixed Ghanaian and South London pidgin of the narrator (words and phrases like 'asweh', 'hutious' and 'advise yourself' abound) and because of his fascination with a wild pigeon who one day flew into their ninth floor flat and from then one believes is watching over him ready to poop on anyone who threatens him. In some of the most clawing and hackneyed passages we are treated the philosophical musings of the pigeon itself.
Reading the booker prize novels has taught me something about myself. Starting with Room last year and now Pigeon English I have learnt that I cannot stand to read narration written from the perspective of a child simply because I believe that a narrative is far too important to be left to such an undeveloped mindset. Harri's thought-processes are so frenetic and changeable one would imagine it giving the novel a certain pace but instead it is just becomes tiring.
Partly inspired by the stabbing of the Nigerian schoolboy Damiola Taylor in 2000 the book taps in on the prevalence of gang culture and knife crime in the council estates of London. Because it is one of few if any novels that attempts to deal with this issue, it is a novel that will do very well whether or not it is artistically merited. It wont be too long before this graces the syllabuses of the United Kingdom and the BBC have already commissioned an adaptation. I also expect it to make it through to the shortlist but sadly I don't think it merits it.
This book's primary flaw - a chattering, distracting narrator that detracts from any innovation in achieving his voice - undermines any other virtues you might find here. It was listed for the Booker but in my personal opinion I don't believe it's quality was really that calibre. Hard to figure the Booker, some odd books have won it, but I don't really see this one as a true candidate. Throw in the fact that its a first novel and it appears that there is some learning to be done in the art of narrative.
This book does evoke the atmosphere and the location very well though - so if you can overlook the narrative weakness you might find this one to be a keeper.
on September 20, 2011
Pigeon Engish is a rewarding, insightful read as well as being quite heart breaking at times.
Harri, along with his sister and mother, has recently moved from Ghana to an impoverished inner city highrise project. Harri makes a convincing eleven year old narrator, both spirited and good -hearted, in contrast to the tragedy that surround shim in the form of poverty, street gangs, prostitution and gangs.
Harri finds himself equally repelled and fascinated by the crime that surrounds him as he tries to navigate his new life.
When a boy is " chooked" or stabbed dead while Harri looks on from a distance, he begins his own murder investigation, using sellotape to gather finger prints , among other methods of investigation.
I was deeply touched by and saddened by many elements of this story , knowing that much of what is described is a reality for impoverished inner city dwellers. The book gave me a great deal of insight into the recent riots in the UK.
A powerful and heartbreaking novel.
Very much recommended