A Slice of Fried Gold

Book Review: Black Swan Green

Thursday, July 9, 2009

#8 - Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Now this book has a weird history for me. Its not every day you read a book that was given to you by a girl you went home with after meeting randomly one night in a bar, so that near constant reminder adds a fun little twist to this book. Of course, given the fact that this is written by the (thee) David Mitchell, a man whom I am quickly becoming a borderline fan boy of after reading this and his superb Cloud Atlas, it does not need anything extra to make it instantly memorable.

While Cloud Atlas is regarded more highly I believe, this book works far greater for myself as a reader. It's a fairly straightforward tale of thirteen year old Jason Taylor, a kid from Worcestshire, England who is going through things that every kid goes through: dealing with bullies, arguing parents, growing interest in the opposite sex, and figuring out who you are as a person. The universality of the tale really works for it, as it makes every page remarkably interesting even given the fact for the most part the happenings are entirely unremarkable.

The greatest tool Mitchell has going for himself in this book is a sharply drawn and wholly believable narrator in young Taylor. If asked, I would be unsurprised if Mitchell put a lot of himself into the character. The young poet who is ashamed of his writing ("poetry is, y'know, kind of gay"), the outcast with aspirations, perhaps even the frustrated boy with the speech impediment. Who knows (Mitchell, natch) but ultimately all that matters is that the character is rich with emotion and truth behind everything he says.

As I shared in my previous review of Cloud Atlas, I am completely in love with Mitchell's grasp of the English language. He can turn a phrase like nobody's business and while the book itself is entertaining, the mere fact that he writes with such beauty and truth behind his words that it makes the whole venture a joyful one. It worked even greater in this novel, as Mitchell was able to focus on one narrative and not having to worry about tying 7 disparate ones together in the end. Every character feels entirely dynamic (and there are a lot of them) and the village of Black Swan Green reads as a place that everyone has been, but with a different name. It all ties back to one word I've said a few times in this review already: truth. The book reads like a retelling of the life experiences of a charming young man in rural England, and it is all the better for it.

Extra points to Mitchell for bringing Eva van Crommelynck back into this story after she appeared in Cloud Atlas, as it not only worked in giving the protagonist a person to be true with, but it also added further depth and intrigue to my favorite section of Cloud Atlas.

Black Swan Green: A


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