Review published on May 17, 2018.
This novel was published in English and Welsh translation at the same time and I read the English text of necessity. But as it is about a Welsh-speaking north Wales community, expect Welsh dialogue and enjoy the distinct cadences and rhythms of Welsh speakers in the English. The author’s background as a poet is nevertheless very clear.
Pigeon – and remember that according to Günter Grass pigeons are not considered important – has a best friend, Lola. As the tale unravels, told by one or the other, we realise that young Pigeon (relegated to the shed) lives in a household with his mother, an abusive stepfather and his daughter. Lola lives with her older sister Efa, who is running the house since her father left and her Nain died. Both are getting on with living their normal lives, albeit in damaged families with insufficient support.
After Gwyn, the ice-cream man, complains about Pigeon to his stepfather, occasioning him a severe beating, Pigeon starts to fantasise about Gwyn and plots revenge. He is to be helped by his sidekick Iola. In short order, an unfortunate accident occurs, Gwyn’s home is fire bombed and the stepfather is shot dead. The authorities start to act; Pigeon is held to be to blame and taken away to custody, and Iola has to go through the rest of her childhood alone. As a damaged 17-year-old, Pigeon will return to the village where the old traditions and mores are starting to break down. He will meet-up with Iola, Gwyn, his mother, and his now brain-damaged stepsister and everybody will have to review their old lives, actions and the consequences from a more adult perspective and as they move on into an uncertain future.
This plotline ensures that this is not a comfortable story to read much of the time. But it is coupled with a detailed and finely crafted sense of place both physical and social. It addresses and skewers the hypocrisy of how things should be, as against how it is for many people; at the same time as recognising the strengths and the weaknesses both of the close family and a small rural community.
The early reliance on the young child-centred perspective to carry the early part of the book and build the foundations of the story may not be to everybody’s taste, but the story is fast-paced nevertheless and maybe reflects the lesser perspective most people have of those around them – rather than the reader who is quite often giving much more.
There are a lot of issues for book groups to discuss in this book.
Hilary White 4/4
Pigeon by Alys Conran
Parthian Books 9781910901236 pbk Jun 2016
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