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161 of 166 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The world's a headmaster who works on your faults.", July 16, 2006
This review is from: Black Swan Green: A Novel (Hardcover)
Some look back on their early adolescence with nostalgia, while others would rather forget the awkward stops and starts along the bumpy road where we begin as children and end as adults. Jason Taylor, narrator of David Mitchell's newest novel, reveals a life that is the source of both; he is a thirteen-year-old would-be poet navigating through one tragi-comic year in his young life. Each of the thirteen chapters in the novel chronicles a different month, and each features those moments in childhood that we believe at the time will mark (or scar) us forever. In Jason, Mitchell has conjured one of the most memorable and real narrators in literature; he reflects on girls, his parents' distintigrating marriage, the cruel initiations of adolescence, or the Falkland wars with equal pathos.

Black Swan Green takes place in a small English countryside town in 1982, and the book is flavored with Thatcher politics, British vernacular , and early 80's pop music. Unlike Mitchell's earlier novels, Black Swan Green is in many ways a novel about the pains and pleasures of the ordinary, and Jason scrutinizes the everyday with as much perception as major life events. Thirteen is an age where an embarrassment at school or a fight with one's parents takes on epic proportions, and yet time passes in such a way that last month's tragedies seem to fade into the distant past. Mitchell conjures this sense with such ease that Jason is a completely believable character, even as his thoughts reveal a remarkable sophistication.

In Cloud Atlas, Mitchell showed himself to be a master of the narrative voice, and in Black Swan Green he exceeds all expectations. Instead of writing what could have been an angst-ridden, self-fixated modern Holden Caulfield, Mitchell brings Jason out of himself with a well-rendered cast of supporting characters: his distant, workaholic father and his acidic mother, the merciless bullies at school, his fellow outcast friends, and various colorful townsfolk. Just as significant but more subtle are the internal characters that populate Jason's mind, including Unborn Twin (the voice of self-deprecation and fear) and his omnipresent arch-nemesis, the Hangman. Hangman is the embodiment of Jason's stammer, a speech impediment that often leaves "s" words frozen on his tongue.

I honestly cannot say enough positive things about this book; Mitchell's writing is gorgeous, Jason's insights at turns comic and heartbreaking. Black Swan Green is perhaps Mitchell's most autobiographic, and it certainly feels like the most grounded of his novels. Beware of the seeming simplicity - this book is neither ordinary nor typical. Rather than produce another quaint coming of age tale, Mitchell delivers a subtle and masterful rendering of an age that is nearly impossible to capture.

~ Jacquelyn Gill
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 21, 2006 6:50:02 AM PST
This is an excellent review and based on my reading of the book, absolutely spot on!

Posted on Apr 13, 2011 6:36:09 PM PDT
M. Feldman says:
"Gorgeous" is the right word for the writing in this novel. Nice review.
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