The London Pigeon Wars, by Patrick Neate

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 323 pp, $36, hardcover.

Scope this, peepniks: London's pigeons have gained consciousness, language, and an irrational urge for civil war, waged on sub/urban lines between the Pigeon Front of Concrete's core and the Surbs from surrounding towns (including narrator Ravenscourt) over the "remnant of Content" from the time before time. Meanwhile, monomial Murray--a pivotal college pal of "twirtysomethings" Tom, Karen, and Tariq--reappears after 10 years' absence. Soon, this mysterious, man of irresistible charisma, unidentifiable race, and seemingly magical abilities has again shaken their complacency, inspiring a fresh and much more dangerous form of the trickster activity Karen dubbed "Murray-fun" or "social terrorism".

This time the four are joined by Tariq's wife and new mom Emma, milliner Freya, poet Kwesi, and minor TV personality Identikit Ami, and the games have gone beyond staging faith healings on the tube or bilking barkeeps with worthless "antiques". Tariq's teetering business in predictive technology for chaotic events threatens to bankrupt the new parents, and the couple's woes prompt the drunken hatching of a bank job.

Calling Pigeon magic realism would only be pecking at a corner of its abundant literary goodies. There's the zest of Neate's social observations: "She pinned up her chaotic blond hair into a shallow pudding that wasn't so much a style as a coping mechanism."

Then there's Ravenscourt's pigeon tongue, a cockney carny-barker poet flow, heavy on alliteration and repetition, with frequent philosophical asides on consciousness, identity, memory, and loss. Balancing social realism with the fantastical, poetic lines with a gritty, suspenseful caper drama, this novel is more magic act than magic realism, a high-wire string quartet with pratfalls and fireworks thrown in for good measure.

"These days in London, politics, race, and class are less statements of identity than descriptions of the way you choose to accessorize. Personal validity lies not in fact but in the simple question, Can you pull it off?" Neate answers himself with the resounding yes that is this book.

Comments