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Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
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Pigeon English

by Stephen Kelman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7955617,877 (3.42)125
Lying in front of Harrison Opuku is a body, the body of one of his classmates, a boy known for his crazy basketball skills, who seems to have been murdered for his dinner. Armed with a pair of camouflage binoculars and detective techniques absorbed from television shows like CSI, Harri and his best friend, Dean, plot to bring the perpetrator to justice. They gather evidence-fingerprints lifted from windows with tape, a wallet stained with blood-and lay traps to flush out the murderer. But nothing can prepare them for what happens when a criminal feels you closing in on him.Recently emigrated from Ghana with his sister and mother to London?s enormous housing projects, Harri is pure curiosity and ebullience-obsessed with gummy candy, a friend to the pigeon who visits his balcony, quite possibly the fastest runner in his school, and clearly also fast on the trail of a murderer.Told in Harri's infectious voice and multicultural slang, Pigeon English follows in the tradition of our great novels of friendship and adventure, as Harri finds wonder, mystery, and danger in his new, ever-expanding world.… (more)
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» See also 125 mentions

English (55)  Dutch (1)  All languages (56)
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
I admit to a sense of relief when I finished this novel. I had high hopes for it but like others I found the narrative voice became tiresome. Pigeon English, indeed. Although, I am sure it realistically portrays what it is to be an immigrant child growing up on an English housing estate, I found it unrelenting and not redeemed by any lightness of tone. The ending became inevitable. ( )
  HelenBaker | Sep 13, 2019 |
The style of the book was great, and I loved the overall plotline — but the ending was a disappointment. ( )
  schufman | Jul 20, 2019 |
I picked this up when it was longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

Pigeon English is narrated by an 11 year old immigrant from Ghana to London. Harri lives in a block of flats with his sister Lydia and his mum. He is wide-eyed and curious about the world he now inhabits often comparing it to the life he remembers in Ghana.

Harri, like every other 11 year old, struggles to cope with the competing demands of school, girls and mates. He wishes he had better trainers and he loves running. He is, in short a perfectly healthy boy.

But the world around Harri is less than perfectly healthy. In Harri's school, bullying is a fact of life as kids learn to carry their lunch money in their socks to avoid getting it "tief'ed". Throughout the novel there is an undercurrent of menace as knives and screwdrivers are as commonplace as bruises and scabs in the lives of these young children.

The story begins with the violent death by stabbing (or "chooking" in Harri's version of the language) of a boy from school. The murder remains unsolved and Harri determines to uncover the truth.

The comparisons with Mark Haddon's book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time are not entirely unwarranted. Harri has an original voice and an unusual view of the world. Harri says things like "asweh!" instead of "I swear" and his verbal battles with sister Lydia are a mashup of London teentalk and immigrant patois that, while reasonably convincing is not alien enough to deserve the punning title of the novel.

In order to further earn the book's title, the author has Harri chat occasionally with a Pigeon. The pigeon represents some mix of earthbound angel and link to the spirit world. It was all very unclear. On the one hand we know the pigeon's responses are just in Harri's head, on the other hand the pigeon speaks with an articulacy beyond Harri's capability and even interferes with the action at a crucial moment by dropping something unpleasant on the face of an older boy about to do someone harm.

It's a case of the author wanting to have his pigeon pie and eat it too.

Ultimately the book makes the fatal mistake of trying to be about something instead of telling an authentic story. By the end I couldn't shake the feeling that the novelist is sitting at home waiting for his book to be repurposed as a "meaningful" school play performed in lunch-breaks throughout the country. I don't mean to belittle the horrors of knife crime and the fear that young people may experience just turning up to school, but this work ends up too lightweight and populated with too many cookie cutout characters to have any more impact than an episode of Hollyoaks. ( )
  asxz | Mar 13, 2019 |
it's uh... fine

not super into the whole 'white dude writes ~important story~ abt the xp of ~tragically marginalized ppl~ and suburban white mom's/huff post LOVE IT' thing

idk, mb he made a honest ethnographic effort, but It reads like a mashup of stereotypes; and the pigeon/god part rly unsettled me bc it seemed to kinda apologize for racist urban policy

like "u let me live my life and I'll let u live urs" or "ugh could u pls stop poisoning me? kinda rude" (quotes from the god pigeon) or the pigeons apparently nihilist view of the (Spoiler) protagonists death (which was enabled by the structural conditions of the postindustrial anglophonic ghetto, eg school to prison pipeline, persecution of illegal immigrants, state coercion/destruction of liberatory cummunity-based movements, etc)

if ur gonna write abt poor ghannan immigrants as a well educated white dude, at least make an honest attempt to make it critical? like that's the least u could do? otherwise it's kinda exploitative?

all that aside, the writing is just super boring and predictable 🙄 ( )
  alexanme | Dec 9, 2018 |
So here is the thing about this book: it is all about the voice. And I will grant you that the authenticity and distinctiveness and consistency of the voice was quite an achievement. The problem is that I still disliked reading a whole book in it; and also, there was something about it that felt ever-so-slightly patronizing, and I really dislike it when authors feel patronizing toward their characters.

Still, if you liked The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time, you might well like this one. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
Pigeon English is indeed a very impressive debut...Pigeon English has a fresh, undeniable appeal, but Kelman doesn’t entirely knock it out of the park. Plotting gets swept aside for long stretches in order to focus on the coming-of-age aspect of the novel, and Harri’s charm-assault eventually begins to flag. Italicized monologues from a kind of “spirit pigeon”— Harri’s favourite bird — feel contrived.

Kelman clearly has the instinct and the skills for future greatness. If this book doesn’t make him The Next Big Thing, there’s a good chance his next one will.

 
Pigeon English does an admirable job of revealing the frightened teenage boys behind gang members' tough façades. But it is too conscious of the gulf between its subjects and its inevitably middle-class readers to be truly convincing.
added by geocroc | editThe Observer, Rachel Aspden (Mar 13, 2011)
 
It is bad form to be rude about first novels, and a pleasure to praise them. Stephen Kelman’s has a powerful story, a pacy plot and engaging characters. It paints a vivid portrait with honesty, sympathy and wit, of a much neglected milieu, and it addresses urgent social questions.
added by mikeg2 | editThe Telegraph, Lewis Jones (Mar 7, 2011)
 
Stephen Kelman's debut is sympathetic if overhyped portrait of the frightened boys behind Peckham's gangs....It's called the murder weapon." Kelman has already been much praised for his ability to write from an 11-year-old's perspective, but here, as often in the first half of the novel, Harri's voice feels laboured and faux-naïf.....Pigeon English (which comes packaged with reading group discussion points such as "Has the novel in any way changed the way you think about youth gangs, knife crime or urban poverty?") does an admirable job of revealing the frightened teenage boys behind gang members' tough façades...
 

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stephen Kelmanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Macdonald, HollyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing

than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance

E.E. Cummings
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For the traveller
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You could see the blood.
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Book description
Advise yourself! It's time to jump into Pigeon English and experience the jubilant, infectious voice of Harrison Opoku. See why he is bo-styles. How being the fastest runner in Year 7 makes him dope-fine. And why, when a hutious criminal feels Harri closing in on him, it just feels crazy. You'll want this book to last donkey hours.

Harri begins his story when he finds himself facing the body of one of his classmates, a boy known for his crazy basketball skills, a boy who seems to have been murdered for his dinner. The police have no leads, so Harri and his best friend launch into action. Armed with camouflage binoculars and detective techniques absorbed from television, they gather evidence — fingerprints lifted from windows with sellotape, a wallet stained with blood — and lay traps to flush out the murderer.

Recently emigrated from Ghana to London and its enormous housing projects, Harri is awed by the city. Filled with curiosity and ebullience — obsessed with gummy candy, a friend to everyone he meets (even the pigeon that visits his balcony) — Harri is still tempted by the glamour and power of the gangs running his neighborhood. His world will be forever altered by the Dell Farm Crew.

Your world will be forever altered by the discovery of the searing, endearing, and virtuosic writing of Stephen Kelman, who, in the great tradition of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, takes us deeply and fully into one boy's life.

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