BookBrowse Reviews Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

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Black Swan Green

by David Mitchell

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2006, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2007, 304 pages

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A sinewy, meditative novel of boyhood on the cusp of adulthood.

From the book jacket: Black Swan Green tracks a single year in what is, for thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor, the sleepiest village in muddiest Worcestershire in a dying Cold War England, 1982. But the thirteen chapters, each a short story in its own right, create an exquisitely observed world that is anything but sleepy. A world of Kissingeresque realpolitik enacted in boys' games on a frozen lake; of "nightcreeping" through the summer backyards of strangers; of the tabloid-fueled thrills of the Falklands War and its human toll; of the cruel, luscious Dawn Madden and her power-hungry boyfriend, Ross Wilcox; of a certain Madame Eva van Outryve de Crommelynck, an elderly bohemian emigré who is both more and less than she appears; of Jason's search to replace his dead grandfather's irreplaceable smashed watch before the crime is discovered; of first cigarettes, first kisses, first Duran Duran Lps, and first deaths; of Margaret Thatcher's recession; of Gypsies camping in the woods and the hysteria they inspire; and, even closer to home, of a slow-motion divorce in four seasons.

Comment: Poor old Jason, he's 13-years old, stuck in the most boring family, in the most boring village, in the most boring country on earth - to add insult to injury he stammers and has to submit his poetry to the local newspaper under an assumed name or he'd be teased unmercifully, and probably get beaten up. Mitchell captures the essence of 1982 Britain, from the high unemployment, Cold-War politics, and the Falklands war, down to the tiniest breakfast cereal detail, but he doesn't just capture an era, he also portrays that moment in time when a child becomes a teenager.

I find it difficult to judge whether Black Swan Green will appeal to North-American readers (who are the majority of BookBrowse's visitors) because, having been born and brought up in England, I loved all the references to TV shows, foods, slang etc (I turned 18 in 1982 if you must know!) - but these references come so thick and fast that I would have thought that many parts would be almost incomprehensible to a non-British reader. However, the North American reviewers appear to love it, which just goes to show how good writing can transcend almost anything!

"Another triumph for one of the present age's most interesting and accomplished novelists." - Kirkus.

"Mitchell's rendering of time and place in this new book has a warm and lived-in feel. . . . [W]hat Mitchell has set out to do here – to capture the flux of youth, and to dazzle the reader with everyday, awkward human interaction rather than clever narrative conceits – is risky and rewarding. [His] obvious efforts to please the reader work wonderfully, and the novel is never less than tremendously engaging." - The Toronto Star.

This review was originally published in April 2006, and has been updated for the February 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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