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Summary and book reviews of Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Black Swan Green

by David Mitchell

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

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Book Summary

A novel about a 13-year-old boy's perilous trek through schoolyard trials, his budding interest in girls and the simmering tension between his parents.

From award-winning writer David Mitchell comes a sinewy, meditative novel of boyhood on the cusp of adulthood and the old on the cusp of the new.

Black Swan 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.

Pointed, funny, profound, left-field, elegiac, and painted with the stuff of life, Black Swan Green is David Mitchell's subtlest and most effective achievement to date.

JANUARY MAN

Do not set foot in my office. That's Dad's rule. But the phone'd rung twenty-five times. Normal people give up after ten or eleven, unless it's a matter of life or death. Don't they? Dad's got an answering machine like James Garner's in The Rockford Files with big reels of tape. But he's stopped leaving it switched on recently. Thirty rings, the phone got to. Julia couldn't hear it up in her converted attic 'cause "Don't You Want Me?" by Human League was thumping out dead loud. Forty rings. Mum couldn't hear 'cause the washing machine was on berserk cycle and she was hoovering the living room. Fifty rings. That's just not normal. S'pose Dad'd been mangled by a juggernaut on the M5 and the police only had this office number 'cause all his other I.D.'d got incinerated? We could lose our final chance to see our charred father in the terminal ward.

So I went ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Jason has ongoing internal dialogues with “Maggot” and “Unborn Twin.” What roles do Maggot and Unborn Twin play in Jason’s life? And what did Mitchell accomplish by employing this device?
  2. At the beginning of the novel, Jason fears that his stammer defines him. Why do you think he calls it "Hangman"? How does he learn to adapt to it? In what ways is the stammer a limitation and in what ways an advantage? Imagine Jason without a stammer–how would the novel be different?
  3. Mitchell often ends a scene in the middle of the action–for example, when Jason is locked in the House in the Woods, or when the fire erupts in Town Hall–and leaves readers to surmise for ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews

Publisher's Weekly

He...captures the sheer pleasure of being a boy and brings to mind adventures shared by Huck and Tom.

The Washington Post

There's plenty of sadness.....but humor, too, and he spins them together subtly in this touching novel

Kirkus Reviews

Another triumph for one of the present age's most interesting and accomplished novelists

Library Journal

British slang and cultural idioms color the prose of brilliant stylist Mitchell, who conveys an emotional rapport with his characters

The Globe and Mail

Warmly personal, funny and as matter-of-fact and grounded as [Mitchell's] other books are enigmatic and lofty, Black Swan Green has a strong autobiographical flavour. . . . An easy and enjoyable read, Black Swan Green is at its most compelling when the dialogue is fraught with tension. . . . [I]t offers more in the way of intimacy [than Mitchell's other work]: It offers a friendship with its precocious and well-meaning young narrator that persists well beyond the last word.

Toronto Star

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. . . . Mitchell's obvious efforts to please the reader work wonderfully, and the novel is never less than tremendously engaging. . . .

Reader Reviews

Cloggie Downunder

a dazzling read
Black Swan Green is the 4th novel by David Mitchell. It describes a year in the life of Jason Taylor, an intense, thoughtful but stammering thirteen-year-old budding poet living in darkest Worcestershire. Set in 1982, this is a very realistic ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

David Mitchell was born in Southport in 1969 and grew up in Malvern, England. He studied for a degree in English and American Literature followed by an MA in Comparative Literature at the University of Kent. He lived for a year in Sicily before moving to Hiroshima, Japan, where he taught English to technical students for eight years, before returning to England.

His first novel, Ghostwritten, was published in 1999, it tells the interlocking stories of nine narrators in nine locations across the globe. It won the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.

His second novel, number9dream (2001), set in modern-day Tokyo, was shortlisted for the 2002 Man Booker Prize for fiction.

...

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