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 an inner-city 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 urban 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.
This is the third of the booker shortlist for 2011 that I have read.
Pigeon English is a quick read, the narrative voice of an eleven year old boy from Ghana is instantly engaging and carries the reader effortlessly into his world. A world of council estate high rises, gangs, trainers, and the aftermath of a senseless death. There is a pigeon in the story - who narrates a few passages - this I didn't feel added anything to the story at all. I'm not even sure what the reader is supposed to take from these passages.
I understand that the author has used the real life story of the death of DamiloaTaylor as an inspiration for this story. There have been plenty of successful novels that are told in a child's voice, last year's booker shortlisted 'Room' in my opinion one of the best. I am not sure if this device isn't already becoming a bit tired, I'm not sure why this should be so - as every other plot device in fiction is used and used again. However, such works as 'The Boy in the striped Pyjamas', 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime', 'What was Lost' and the aforementioned 'Room', all of which are brilliant may have diluted slightly the power of the child narrator's voice. The voice of Harri in Pigeon English is authentic, urban and poignant. His fate feels inevitable. I did enjoy this novel, but it lacked something for me, the story which is told should be more of a punch to the solar plexus than I found it. I am trying to figure out why I felt slightly disconnected from the characters and events.
I am looking forward to the booker announcement this year as I have read some of the shortlist and will be starting another one later.