Wednesday, February 27, 2008

BOOK: Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

what's in a name challenge, colour category; notable books 2007

1982, Black Swan, England. This novel spends a year in Jason Taylor's life as he navigates the uneasy age of thirteen, and if you've forgotten how horrible thirteen year old are, this book will slam it back to you. Thirteen year old girls are awful, I know from living it, and this book exposed that boys are just as bad. Jason, our narrator has many sides, most notably a poet. Eliot Bolivar is his alias as it wouldn't do to have the other lads aware that Jason writes poetry, he'd be a poof. The language and slang of Worcestershire County in the early 1980s takes a bit to understand, but it works, and Mitchell has captured the voice of his narrator perfectly. It helps that I remember being 14 in 1982, and the Falklands War. I imagine all early teenagers get a world event that helps define their life, that time when you begin to see the whole world and your place in it, and how larger events than your house, your community are important.

And it was the poetry of the writing that I loved in this book. The images and phrases captured my attention. Jason has a way of describing things perfectly, by a simile or even their sound.

A classic LP was playing. Nothing like the rumpty-tump-tump stuff Mr Kempsey plays in Music. Jealous and sweet, this music was, sobbing and gorgeous, muddy and crystal. But if the right words existed the music wouldn't need to.

Themes of secrets run through this, but it isn't obvious how much until the end. The lesson by their teacher about secrets was my favorite passage in the book. Oh, to be able to teach a lesson so well! Secret clubs, phone calls, speech impediments, parents, all powerful secrets. And then there were the bullies. Trying to fit in and wanting the approval of the popular boys makes those kids the prey of bullies. So this is also about courage, and doing the right thing. A lot of stuff happens in this novel, too much to mention, but it will be swilling around in my head for a while.

The writing, and the characters, and the poetry make this an excellent book. A bildungromans. (I had to look that up one day) This made the long list for the Man Booker in 2006, but not the shortlist?


  1. Glad to see you liked this one as I did :)

    And I like your new "look" too!

  2. It took a while, but this one eventually won me over as well.

  3. wendy - thanks. I really liked this book, and I think I'll like it more as I think about it. I can't wait to read another of his books, maybe Cloud Atlas

    john - I found it mostly funny at first, but then it became more touching. I went back to your review and it was very good. I like how you've linked to other reviews after the fact.

    I don't feel I did this book justice in my review. Having Jason be a poet made the descriptions so much more lush than a regular old 13 year old - a hairy barbarian.

  4. I liked this one too, glad you did too.

    I read it after Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten and some of the characters overlap. That's one of the things I love about David Mitchell, he links his books through all these small details.

    I hope you read Cloud Atlas and other others - Black Swan Green was good but the others are better, to me David Mitchell is a genius.

  5. His name sounds familiar--did he write Echo Maker? I'll have to look it up. Anyway, this sounds good. Horrible teenage girls always remind me of Atwood's Cat's Eye.

  6. joanna - Glad to hear his ohter books are just as good. I feel like I've discovered a new author. I felt like that with Ishiguro, and they feel a little similar. I read on wiki how Mitchell has characters reappear in books. I like that.

    metro mama - It was fab

    trish - No, Richard Powers did The Echo Maker, much less interesting to me. Children are so horrible to each other.

  7. This is one of those books I keep picking up in the bookstore, mulling it over, and inevitably setting it back down again. Your review makes me wish I'd brought it home the last time I saw it. Great review!

  8. wendy - I picked it up for 5.99 at Indigo. I had been wanting to read a Mitchell, either this or Cloud Atlas, so a sale table made the decision for me. Now I definitely want to read Cloud Atlas.

  9. I loved this book when I read it last year!! I haven't read anything else by Mitchell, but I definitely need to!


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