Saturday, 8 September 2012

What's it like to be eleven?

Reading: Drum by Kyle Onstott
Listening to: Fun "We are Young"
Weather: Shorts; breezy, loose holiday top that breathes; bare feet; freshly-showered hair drying in the sun. All good.

After having shovelled what seemed like a ton of mulch - I have the blisters to prove it - into neat piles in the various various flowerbeds of my front and back yard, then spreading it around with the infinite care and finesse of the most professional of landscapers (please), I feel like I have as much energy as a sock-puppet without a hand. Sprucing up the outdoors surrounding my house takes a lot more gusto than I anticipated. However! It looks gorgeous now, and now that the hedges have gotten their haircut (thanks to my better half - oh man, you are so good) it could almost be a magazine picture in Better Homes & Gardens.


Anyway! On with the show. I have finished reading Stephen Kelman's first novel Pigeon English, and let me tell you, I have always been a fan of switching perspectives in novels, and this does this in a precise and succinct way. It can be hard to accomplish this - I've had literary agents tell me this, because I am one of those writers who can't but help but switch perspectives, it's as instinctive as breathing (as an aside: I feel sometimes a story isn't whole until you're seeing it from different angles. It takes a ton of talent and skill to know how and when to look at one person/object/event from different people's points of view - I am honing that now), but it can easily become confusing or distracting for the reader. Never fear: Kelman achieves his perspective-swap in a clear way, and so the changing of perspectives improves his story, makes it richer.

Nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Stephen Kelman - Well! Done! You!

 I could not have asked for more from this unabashedly innocent and youthful learning-the-ways-of-the-world story. Being eleven years old can't be the easiest thing in the world. (My eleven-year-old self scurried into the shadows years ago, along with her obsession with clenliness, horses, and books, never to emerge again, thank GOD. Oh...wait.) Our protagonist, Harri, has a lot to say about his life and life in general. Is this vignette, this slice of life, so different from our own? Sure, he lives in a place I wouldn't be familiar with, personally; he is from another country, again, one with a past and a shared history that I can't be part of - but does this stop me from falling into this story, with nothing to hold onto except the front and back covers? Not at all.

Also, I wanted to say, Bloomsbury, what a beautiful cover on Pigeon English. What quality binding and feel and gloss. This is quality. There's none of that gritty unravelling fragility that comes with a well-thumbed paperback edition. This is a paperback but with a hardcover feel - there are even flaps on the inside covers so that you can mark your place as you approach the story's centre, and then change flaps as you come to the climax and down, past it, like a pigeon landing on the pavement, to the denouement. (Like that fancy language, the dramatic structure, and the pigeon simile? I thought you might. That was for you, Dear Reader. To whet your appetite. My promise to you: rats with with wings or not, you will never look at pigeons the same way again.)

And so, thank you, Stephen Kelman, for having a vision, and uncovering this story for us, piece by piece and character by character, and writing it down. And getting an agent and getting it published. For us. Pigeon English is a gem. Well done you.

Here's hoping you - Dear Reader - have a fun Saturday - this your time - spend it well.

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