September 17 2011 Literary Fiction Newsletter
– Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,”
from The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819–20)
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BOOKS ON MY NIGHT STAND
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
Child narrators are perfect for modern literature. Like Mockingbird’s Scout Finch and Christopher Boone of A Curious Incident before him, 11-year-old Harri Opoku tells his story without guile, all the better for us to ponder life’s pathos and recognize its ironies. From what I’ve read so far, Harri is clearly disturbed by the fatal knifing in the opening chapter. He was only “half friends” with the victim, who went to a different school, but we can read his preoccupation with the boy’s death between the lines of the first otherwise blithe chapters.
Harri has, of course, been compared to Jack from Emma Donoghue’s Room, which made the Booker shortlist last year. In fact, he’s not even the only young narrator in this year’s shortlist: Jaffy Brown of Jamrach’s Menagerie, by Carol Birch, is giving him a run for his money. It’s a good thing, then, that Harri’s the second-best runner in Grade 7. Stay tuned for more as I continue reading this book ...
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
If you could coin a word, what would it be?
I’m in the middle of reading, among other things, Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Kelman’s narrator has a quirky vocabulary inflected with what I’m guessing are expressions from his native Ghanaian: asweh, hutious, advise yourself. “In England,” Harri remarks, “there’s a hell of different words for everything. It’s for if you forget one, there’s always another one left over. It’s very helpful.”
The English have their Bard to thank for that, of course. I read recently that the average person uses about 17,000 words in an entire lifetime, but Shakespeare used twice that in his works. When English didn’t provide him with the right word, he coined the word himself, including: besmirch, excitement, hush, pander and rant – all of which appear in Hamlet.
So, have you found yourself forgetting a word lately, and wished you could just make one up? What would the word be? Post it on the forum!
Literary Fiction Editor, BellaOnline
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