Patrick Neate

"The London Pigeon Wars"

(reviewed by Mary Whipple AUG 22, 2004)

The London Pigeon Wars by Patrick Neate

Karen Miller, ten years out of college, is working for the city of London Transit Committee when she is assigned to become the "pigeon czar." The city's pigeons have divided into two warring factions, attacking each other in flight, flying into apartment buildings, and breaking windshields of BMWs when they plummet dead from the skies. In dual, compelling narratives, Patrick Neate reveals the progress of these pigeon wars, told from the point of view of Ravenscourt, a pigeon soldier supporting Gunnersbury, and from the perspective of Karen and six of her friends, ten years after college. Skewering the aimlessness of these "twirty-somethings," who are so busy looking at the ground that they ignore the world above them, he reveals them to be much like the pigeons, living in the instant, lacking direction and purpose, reacting rather than thinking, and often fighting.

When the mysterious Murray, a Mephistophelean friend from college, arrives in town, he exerts the same vibrant spell on his friends as he did in the past, when he was famous for "Murray-fun," or, perhaps, "social terrorism." When he suggests his latest idea, all are ready for a change. Karen is in the midst of a bad love affair. Freya Franklin, a hat designer, is struggling with a new business. Tom Dare, an unhappy teacher, has had affairs with both Karen and Freya. Emma, a new mother suffering from some sort of wasting disease, is married to Tariq, whose business has failed. Kwesi, a poet of "ghetto chic" gives readings in which his delivery, manner, and accent are worse than his poetry, and Ami is a TV weather-girl. The reader soon observes Murray's growing power as he plans his newest "fun," which requires "enough" guns. Meanwhile, the pigeons are at war, sabotaging each other, struggling to capture the "Remnant of Content," and interacting with the "peepniks" (people) and particularly with Murray, whom they call "Mishap."

Neate's use of language is fascinating and often "cute," especially in the pigeon narratives. "Slowtion," "flixtures," and "nobirdy," for example, are obvious elisions which contribute to a different language for the pigeons, who also refer to "coochies," "geezes," and "squibs," the meanings obvious through context. Neate, with a fondness for philosophy, puts his characters (and pigeons) into the wider context of the "time before time," wondering if "content is really the height of my dreams, and will I ever even dream again?" As the wars wind down and the fate of Murray hangs in the balance, Neate requires the reader to think, even as he entertains and satirizes the "society" in which both peepniks and pigeons operate.

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About the Author:

Patrick NeatePatrick Neate, born and raised in South London and is a journalist, performance poet and deejay.

In 2001, he won England's Whitbread Award for his novel Twelve Bar Blues, as well as the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Royal Society Literature Award, Somerset Maugham Award and the Sunday Times Younger Writer of the Year. He has published articles in many leading magazines including The Face, Mixmag and Time Out. Where You're At: Notes from the Frontline of a Hip Hop Planet won the 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism.

He lived in Zambia for a couple of years before settling in West London. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014