The novel cure: Loss of face
Literary prescriptions for modern ailments
Ailment: Face, loss of
Cure: Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
Is there anything worse than losing face, especially if you're a teen? To be scorned or mocked by one's peers is tantamount to being cast out from the group. In evolutionary terms, losing face can mean failure to survive.
When 11-year-old Harri Opoku comes to live in Peckham from Ghana, he enters a world in which pretty much anything he does is doomed to be wrong. His clothes are secondhand; and, knowing his Brixton market trainers won't cut the mustard, he draws Adidas stripes on them with a marker pen. It doesn't work. His classmates jeer at him, laugh at his trainers, and mimic his accent. "Do you have happiness?" they ask him. "Yes," he replies. "Do you have a penis?" they guffaw.
The family live on the ninth floor of an inner-city block, and Harri spends a lot of time talking to a pigeon. The "rat with wings" listens to his questions, and seems to understand his confusion.
When a boy from Harri's neighbourhood is knifed to death, his blood staining the stairwell of their estate and his trainers left hanging on the railings to tempt the circling, predatory boys, the pigeon gives Harri the confidence to find out what really happened. His detective work brings him terrifyingly close to boys with a killer attitude. His only salvation is his speed. Because Harri's trainers might not be the right brand, but he can still run faster than anyone else in year seven.
Harri's irresistible voice and his heartbreaking experiences show that worse things do happen in life than losing face. When the world shrinks to the size of your peer group and all you can think of is where you come in the pecking order, this novel will hoist you up and give you that broader perspective.
'The Novel Cure, An A-Z of Literary Remedies' (Canongate, £17.99); thenovelcure.com
Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Astrological signs are almost all wrong, as movement of moon and sun throws out zodiac
- 2 Dad eats daughter's weed brownies, thinks he's had a stroke
- 3 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 4 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
- 5 Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories
Jeremy Clarkson to host BBC's Have I Got News For You despite Top Gear exit
James Bond Spectre trailer drops on YouTube
Zayn Malik already working on solo material, just days after quitting One Direction
A historian gave the most British look of despair when someone screwed up Richard III's birthday at his reburial
Kay Burley 'bias' against Ed Miliband prompts 130 complaints to Ofcom
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash: Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz wanted to 'do something people would remember him for'