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Hello, faithful reader! My short story “The City” is being published in the Autumn 2011 edition of online fiction magazine The Battered Suitcase. You can read it here for free online, or shell out a few dollars to download it to Kindle or iPad or whatever the kids are doing these days, or spend a few dollars more to order a print copy. Naturally this volume contains not just my own tale of amazement and delight, but those of many other writers.

This is the first short story I’ve had published in any kind of official capacity, which is a significant milestone for any writer. Unfortunately it’s also the last issue of the magazine, which can be traced directly back to you for not supporting the independent arts scene in the past. Shame, shame, shame.

I first started writing “The City” when I was living in Seoul, which was more than two years ago. It was accepted for publication in November 2010, which was nearly a year ago. I think I need to either start writing more stories, or ignore simultaneous submission prohibitions.

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman (2011) 263 p.

Eleven-year old Harrison Opoku is a newly-arrived Ghanian immigrant to the United Kingdom, living in a run-down council flat with his sister and mother. Harrison is wide-eyed and excited about life in London, but the lot of an immigrant is to be mired in urban poverty and exposed to the criminal scum of human society. Pigeon English opens with Harrison witnessing the aftermath of a fatal stabbing against an older boy, and follows his naive attempts to track down the killer.

The novel is narrated from Harrison’s first-person point of view, relying on the time-honoured method of having a child narrator witness events that he can’t quite understand, but which the reader can. (And frankly, for an eleven-year old, he’s a fucking idiot.) Harrison’s meandering tale is peppered with a mixture of African-accented phoentics and London slang, and I quickly grew tired of reading the words “donkey hours,” “everybody agrees,” and “Asweh!” It’s not the Kelman fails to create a convincing voice for Harry, but rather that a) it’s an annoying voice, and b) he uses it as a crutch to give the book a sense of profundity. There are a number of scenes where Kelman relies on Harrison’s plain statements to relay the book’s unsubtle themes, and some clumsy attempts at symbolism which come across as the author clutching at straws. The book’s talking pigeon, which speaks directly to the reader (and sometimes to Harrison) had me rolling my eyes.

Pigeon English also has a completely left-field ending, one which I thought was a bit harsh, but at that point I no longer cared. It was one of those novels which I was really happy to finish, simply because I didn’t have to read it anymore.

Perhaps it’s just me – Pigeon English has been receiving rave reviews. But I found it to be a tremendously irritating novel, and would be disappointed if it won.

BOOKER VERDICT

The rave reviews worry me. Without them, I’d be honestly surprised that this clumsy and amaterish novel had even been shortlisted. In any case, Pigeon English is the least worthy of all the shortlisted novels I’ve read thus far, and if it wins it will be at the expense of several astronomically superior books (specifically Jamrach’s Menagerie and The Sisters Brothers). Given that this year’s panel seem to be very open to genre novels and not as much to the traditional contemporary-realist-moralising type, I feel that I can safely say it won’t win. And yet it lurks. It lurks.

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