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Book review: Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman

By Whitney Matusiak

Author Stephen Kelman grips readers and deftly conjures compassion withpigeon-english-stephen-kelman the use of a culturally and socially magnetic dialect in his debut novel Pigeon English (2011).

Set in a rough London estate, Pigeon English is a modern-day coming-of-age tale with dark leanings centring on the gang-related death of a young boy. With childlike but remarkably poignant humour and honesty, Ghanaian-born Harri investigates the murder with his best friend Dean. With hints of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Miriam Toews’ The Flying Troutmans, readers are engaged in thought-provoking social questions, and Harri’s boundless curiosity and sympathy give way to a tale that is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.

The success of Pigeon English is undoubtedly a result of Kelman’s extraordinarily imaginative and realistic characters. Kelman takes a literary risk, using a lot of informal language, and the title of the novel evokes this language play. Kelman brilliantly uses interjections of West African Pidgin English, or Guinea Coast Creole English, to breathe life into Harri and the supporting characters. (more…)

Book review: The Word Exchange, by Alena Graedon

By Whitney Matusiak

The-Word-ExchangeAlena Graedon’s debut novel, The Word Exchange, explores an imagined time of conquered print-media prowess—replaced by “smart” technology bordering on artificial intelligence. Graedon’s “dystopian novel for the digital age” follows the perils of Anana Johnson with clever thematic nods to George Orwell’s 1984, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids.

Forecasting a future nearly devoid of books, magazines, and libraries, Graedon’s The Word Exchange paints the bleak picture of print media, six feet under. Embellishing the all-too-familiar scene of mental, emotional, and physical attachment to handheld devices, we are introduced to Synchronic’s market-cornering technology—the Meme. Intuitive by design, the Meme takes over the wheel of life and does taxes, beams money, fills in writer’s (thinker’s) block, satiates hunger pains, and interfaces with friends and family (actually that doesn’t sound too bad) enabled by only a wisp of thought from its user.

Set in New York City, Anana works for the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL) along with her father, Doug Johnson, who can remember the pre-Meme days of paying with cash and communicating in person. On the cusp of releasing the third and final print version of the dictionary, Doug’s mysterious disappearance renders the launch inexplicably cancelled—but well timed due to the fresh success of Synchronic.


Book review and contest: Emberton, by Peter Norman

Would you like to win a copy of Emberton, the brand new debut novel from Canadian poet Peter Norman? Read our review below, then send your name and full mailing address to [email protected] with the subject line “Emberton contest” by April 9 to enter the draw. (Contest open to EAC Toronto branch members only.)

embertonReview by Sara Torvik

“What if people could capture and hoard language? What would it mean if that physical material were drained from the world and stored up in a cave underground?”

These are some of the questions that led to the creation of Emberton, the debut novel from Canadian poet and author Peter Norman (published by Douglas & McIntyre). In Emberton, Norman takes these questions and fleshes them out in a compelling story full of mystery, horror, and humour.

The novel tells the story of Lance Blunt who, despite appearing to be a normal young man, has a secret he has been carrying his whole life: he cannot read. This secret has hindered Lance’s life and relationships, and has kept him dependent on his parents, who have made every effort to help Lance with his disability, to no avail. Lance has gotten by working at his father’s furniture store as a salesman, but once his father falls ill and dies from cancer, the same fate his mother met years earlier, Lance is left to fend for himself.