Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

About the Book

Title: Pigeon English
Author: Stephen Kelman
Publication: Bloomsbury (2011)
Summary: Newly arrived from Ghana with his mother and older sister Lydia, Harrison absorbs the many strange element of city life, from the bewildering array of Haribo sweets, to the frightening, fascinating gang of older boys from his school. But his life is changed forever when one of his friends is murdered. He decides to take it upon himself to find the killer. 

What I Think

I borrowed this book from a friend at work and was interested to learn that it had been shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2011, along with five others: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (the winning novel), Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt, Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyn and Snowdrops by A.D. Miller. A shortlisting for this highly prestigious prize is, in itself, a massive achievement, and I therefore had high expectations of this novel. 

Harrison, the main character, a young boy who has recently moved to England from Ghana is utterly adorable and has a unique perspective on things. I enjoy reading books written from a child's perspective. If the author is able to capture the wonder that children have about the world and how they see things, it makes for a very interesting read. 
Have you heard of YouTube? It's a place on the internet just for films of things eating each other. Dean showed me a snake eating a boy. 

When people speak a language that isn't their mother tongue, they quite often say things differently to native speakers. Kelman has thought up some interesting ways to define Harrison's use of language. 
I got a remote control car even if it wasn't my birthday. Asweh it was dope-fine.[...] 
Me: 'Stop snapping me, you're making me crash!'
Lydia: 'Stop crashing, you're making me snap you!' 

Harrison is in an unfamiliar place, a place far more dangerous than he is used to, and he is too young to understand what is going on around him. This lands him in trouble. His sister is friends with girls who have links to an extremely nasty crowd. His aunt is living with a man who deals with violence every day. When Harrison, along with his best friend Dean, start looking for clues to find the killer of their friend, they bite off way more than they can chew. 
I followed the word with my fingers to feel for a clue. It was only pretend: I knew already who did it and who it was meant for. Jordan's always writing warnings with his war knife, it shows the enemy he means business and freaks them out. 

This is a very powerful novel about youth, displacement and trying to survive in an ever changing world full of people you love, but also full of people you can't trust. Highly recommended. 

About the Author

Stephen Kelman was born in Luton in 1976. Pigeon English, his first novel, was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Book Prize, the Desmond Eilliott Prize and the Guardian First Book Award, and he was also shortlisted for the New Writer of the Year Award at the 2011 Galaxy National Book Awards. he lives with his wife Uzma in st Albans, where he is currently work on his second book. 


  1. My own list (of books to read) is getting dangerously long. Another one to add! Thank you for making us aware, good books are always welcome on the list.

    1. The list of good books is forever getting longer...


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