Fiction Pigeon English Omnivore review

Published on March 19th, 2011


Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

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Blurb: 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. (Bloomsbury)

Alex Clark, The Guardian

Filled with energy, humour and compassion, Pigeon English is a gut-wrenchingly sad novel that makes you laugh out loud.

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Lewis Jones, The Daily Telegraph

[Pigeon English] 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. It is horrifying, tender and funny. In this case, though, my praise is quite irrelevant because – unusually for any novel, let alone a first one – Pigeon English is critic-proof … it is transparently based on the story of Damilola Taylor.

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Jonathan Barnes, Literary Review

Clear-eyed and unflinching … 

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Benjamin Evans, The Daily Telegraph

Harrison’s polyglot narration – combining street slang and West African argot – convincingly reflects the jumbled, frenetic and crude workings of an 11-year-old’s mind. The well-caught interplay between innocence and precocity helps generate a powerful heart-in-mouth dread for Harrison’s safety as events spiral out of control. Despite the build-up, Pigeon English is not an unmitigated triumph. The murder mystery plot lacks the unbearable suspense of Room …

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Phil Baker, The Sunday Times

Kelman is not afraid to take some very bold risks, ranging from the sudden shock of the book’s unhappy ending to the inclusion of a talking pigeon with a distinctly un-pigeon-like tendency to philosophise… Poetic, inventive, humane, sometimes funny, Pigeon English is nevertheless an odd book, perched awkwardly between teen and adult fiction.

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Rachel Aspden, The Observer

Too conscious of the gulf between its subjects and its inevitably middle-class readers to be truly convincing.

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Adrian Turpin, The Financial Times

Told with humour, despite the gritty subject matter and setting, in essence it’s the tale of an innocent abroad … Pigeon English charms its way into some hard places, which feels, at the risk of a huge generalisation, a very British approach to a first novel.

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