This book is one of the more controversial books included on the Booker longlist. And the controversy largely concerns the narrative voice. This is puzzling to me.
The narrator is eleven year old Harrison Opoku newly arrived from Ghana and living in one of London's high rise housing estates. His shop-owner father, along with baby sister and grandmother remain in Ghana while his father raises enough money for them to join Harri, his older sister and mother in London. The mother works long hours in a hospital, so Harri and his sister have lots of unsupervised time. Both children want to follow the god fearing, law abiding rules of their parents, but are living in a world controlled by adolescents with a sloppy set of criminal inclinations. Harri plays the detective trying to uncover a murderer, but at the same time yearns to pass the lame but vaguely felonious tests set for him in order to join the local gang, the Dell Farm Crew.
Hari is both confused and sure of himself, yet often wrong in his attempts to decode the world around him. His vocabulary and thought processes are those of a child. I think this is a vitally important component of the world view the author demands that we experience, and because of this narrative voice, the enormity of what is happening is fully, deeply, felt by at least this reader. The problem is that while this voice works well in the confines of what the author is trying to communicate, it does not necessarily make for fine literature. So I think it is a mostly successful novel, but I do not think it deserves to be shortlisted for the Booker.
It is told in the simple, naïve voice of a sheltered, middle class Ghana boy who has just landed in the scary-attractive world of inner city London. It is very, very difficult to carry off such a voice for almost 300 pages, and I agree that it is less than fully successful. But it isn't horrible, and he is very successful in showing the fluid morality of someone thrown into that world at such a vulnerable age with wholly inadequate adult supervision.
I thought the "mystery" component of the book to be a narrative ploy to carry the plot forward. I don't think it really worked. The book would have been much better if 100 pages had been lopped off. Oh, and nix the voice of the pigeon. That was inexcusably lame.