Pigeon English is another shortlisted for the Booker Prize – this one in 2011. I have to say it’s a lot better than Harold Fry, which I read recently.
Pigeon English is a first person narrative in the line of Huckleberry Finn or Ridley Walker though the narrative voice is not so singular and unusual. Here Kelman indicates the urban character of the boy with a few deft stylistic features that are reiterated throughout the novel, whilst maintaining a simple kind of English which is both suitable for this naive narrator, and at the same time simple to read.
Whilst Twain lets his narrator reveal the corrupt and hypocritical face of the mid west, Pigeon English has a different approach. Here the narrator is both naive and inspirational, with a taste for life, and a love of language and knowledge. There is none of the cynicism of Huck. Harrison is innocent enough to believe in the inimitable justice of life and stands on its threshold, achingly admiring the beauty of love and nature, thrilled with the joy of life, and shocked by its tawdry elements. The dog, Asbo, and the magical pigeon promise joy and union with nature and God.
We can laugh with Harrison, as well as at his naive innocence. The portrait of school life in an inner city comprehensive rings true to me, and I worked in one for many years. In the end the book’s moral is perhaps a little obvious. I won’t spoil it though with any more details.
I certainly recommend this: full of life and wit and energy, a touch of romance (of the Wordsworthian kind) and a compelling read.