twenty eight

There’s lots of good stuff in this tale of disaffected, slightly lost teenagers, in some unnamed Welsh town, near the slate quarries, near the sea. The story centres around 3 or 4 of these young people, one of whom is Pigeon, his real name – although sometimes spelled Pijin – as he repeatedly tells people, a young boy who lives in a shed in his family’s garden and rarely bothers with school. The others are Cher and Iola, two young girls.

I found the opening pages difficult and fragmented. In that way that your concentration wanders, you keep needing to go back over the previous half a page to grasp what has happened. I almost gave up on it. I’m glad I didn’t because it pulls together with an appealing vigour and momentum as the story reaches a conclusion.

There’s something in this about coming of age, something about the stories kids tell each other, half truths getting tangled with very real fears, something about lies. It’s almost as if there are two or three slightly unreliable narrators cutting across each others’ memories, not quite denying them, but not verifying them either. And they get into varying degrees of trouble as bored kids in dead end places do.

The adults in the book are damaged or dangerous, either way they neither set examples or boundaries. Gwyn, the ice-cream man, may or may not, pay a heavy price for some misdemeanours, imagined, exaggerated or real. Pigeon’s Mother seems unaware, dysfunctional an almost ghostly presence in the book and in Pigeon’s life, when he comes home from a brief spell in prison, he finds the place a can-littered dusty tip and in a fit of disgust sets about cleaning the place, while ‘His mam stares at him. She stands, holding the edge of the chair and stares.’ There follows a long paragraph of Pigeon dusting, tearing down curtains, opening windows to blow fresh air through, at the end of which, ‘His mam stands holding the edge of the chair until he’s finished. He cleans around her feet, not asking her to move.’

The way that the narrative style creates a distance, an otherness about the characters and the tale itself, as though they were being viewed behind heavy glass, reminded me a little of The Wasp Factory…which cannot be anything but a good thing. But the clearer literary precursers are Niall Griffiths’ drifting student, unemployed youths in Grits and Sheepshagger…almost as if this were the early days of a handful of those characters.

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