Read and Reviewed

We would like to give you an idea about what we’re currently reading, books we’ve enjoyed recently and recommendations for you. We will also try to include a review from someone in one of our international British Council offices.

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman tells the story of Harri, a young immigrant from Ghana growing up on a London council estate of high-rise concrete flat blocks and vandalised community halls and playgrounds. Kelman finds a unique and interesting voice in Harri, explaining the strange world as he sees it through a mix of Ghanaian patois and London slang. The ‘pigeon’ of the title refers not only to the language that the narrator uses and the bird that he thinks is watching over him; but just as much to the confusing world that Kelman describes Harri seeing: the wonder and joy of childhood mixed-up with the fear, respect and some perceived pleasure caused by teenage stabbings, violence and vandalism. The story is said to be loosely based on the story of Damilola Taylor, a 10 year old schoolboy stabbed in London in 2000, and is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011.

Even The Dogs by Jon McGregor – Jon McGregor’s third novel is bleakly compelling right from its rhythmic first line: “They break down the door at the end of December and carry the body away.” Set in an unnamed British city, it is a story about homelessness told largely in the first person plural, the constant ‘we’ reminiscent of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and Joshua Ferris’ And Then We Came To The End. From within this eerie chorus, individual voices slowly emerge. There is Danny, a heroin addict who finds the dead body before the police do and flees the scene in a panic; his friend Mike, a Scouser relying on drugs to manage his personality disorders; Steve, an alcoholic ex army man; and Heather, an ex-groupie and ‘cutter’. These individuals follow the corpse’s journey from discovery to cremation, and as the text itself begins to disintegrate – unfinished paragraphs, ten pages of unbroken stream of consciousness – so too do the barriers between reader and characters. Reminiscent of Faulkner and James Kelman, Even The Dogs is at times a depressing, difficult read, but the inventiveness of the writing holds a strangely addictive power that suits the story’s subject matter and leaves you, on the final page, wishing you could read just a little bit more.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is the best selling novel of all time, with over 200 million copies sold worldwide. David Copperfield may have been Charles Dickens’ ‘favourite child’ but A Tale of Two Cities was his favourite story. And it’s mine too. With plot twists, larger-than-life characters and a gripping social commentary from both sides of the channel this book includes all the classic ‘Dickensian’ traits. However, it’s also fantastically gory and full of suspense. A sense of mystery hinges in the air like a guillotine waiting to fall as we wait for the dramatic ending and the unravelling of one of the greatest mysteries. As a historical novel, Dickens writes about the perils of the French Revolution in the 18th century and the plight of doomed doppelgangers Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay. Despite being rooted in an earlier time and culture A Tale of Two Cities somehow fuses into our contemporary consciousness. The novel’s opening line ‘it was the best of times; it was the worst of times’ is recognised worldwide and often serves as a way to reflect upon current political instability and social injustice. It’s all part of Dickens’ genius – the way that his writing feels so very current and so applicable to the ways in which we live today and the ways in which we respond to Literature. A great introduction to Dickens and a real treat for those who have yet to experience one of his finest works.

Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru takes us to the American wilderness where he plays out questions about community, responsibility and what it all means in a modern and fractured world. Looking not only out into the desert but also up into the sky, Kunzru’s different narratives are as diverse and expansive as the space that he questions: a modern American couple struggle to deal with their autistic son and the media maelstrom when he disappears; a repentant convict looks to outer space to make amends; a disintegrating cult finds itself adrift in the social fallout of the sixties; a British pop-star struggles to make sense of his success and a young Iraqi immigrant yearns for nothing more than an American way of life. All of these characters become wry and fragile in Kunzru’s hands. Inner demons are played out in gigantic spaces but, as he reconciles us to his characters, the individuals don’t feel quite so small and individual after all.