Posted by: Matt | November 26, 2007

Black Swan Green

Black Swan Green
David Mitchell
2006
294 pgs.

Black Swan Green tells a bit of the story of Jason Taylor, a 13 year old boy growing up in a small English town. It covers the life Jason leads at home, at school and the roads and fields in between.

Who would have thought the life of a 13 year old boy could be so entertaining? I certainly did not. It is amazing how David Mitchell is able to pull the reader into Jason’s life and have them rooting for such a great kid.

Much of the brilliance of this book is in allowing the reader to understand just how damaging teasing and bullying can be. I left school behind years ago and only now realize what some kids had to put up with. Jason has a stammer which he has found creative ways to cover, but which still reveals itself enough for the school kids to discover. At one point Jason finds himself in the lowest order of kids, and I found myself feeling bad for any thoughts of teasing I might have had in school.

Another interesting aspect of the book for an American like me is reading the English slang (which I assume is dated now as the story takes place in 1982) and the events the English were dealing with at the time (Falkland Islands). Sometimes it is difficult to realize just how narrow a view we take until someone introduces us to a different point of view.

I have one complaint about the book, but I am unsure whether it is valid. The school teachers and students seemed ridiculously and unrealistically harsh. Teachers in the book verbally criticize the students which I never saw at all while in school. Maybe it’s a difference in countries or maybe I just grew up going to schools that were strangely tame. It was somewhat distracting for me however, as it wasn’t completely believable.

But aside from that, Black Swan Green was tremendously entertaining and had me completely engrossed. I was a bit sad to see it end really and I look forward to David Mitchell’s next book, whatever that might be. I think he has become one of my favorite authors after this and Cloud Atlas. Time to go back and read his earlier novels, I think.

Rating: 4.5

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Responses

  1. I have a feeling that traditional boarding schools in England are known for the bullying and harshness. At least under Charles Dickens’ hand!

    I have seen this one many times at the bookstore but never got to pick it up. Now I’ll check it out.

  2. I loved Black Swan Green and Cloud Atlas. Mitchell has certainly become one of my favorite authors. I also thought it was very clever how he had Jason personify his stammer by calling it The Hangman – just loved that.

  3. Matt – It could very well be that they are a lot tougher than the type of school that I went to in middle class suburbia.

    verbivore – Yeah, the stuff about the stammer was pretty interesting, particularly how he personified it as you say and how he tried to avoid it.

  4. I enjoyed it more and more as I went on. Initially I thought the 80s references were too forced, but by the end they either eased up or I got used to them, being drawn instead into the story. I, too, questioned the brutality of the teachers- I thought it must be a British thing.

  5. John – I can recall your review, I considered it some as I read. I enjoyed the references to 80s music as I still listen to it, but I can see how the 80s stuff might become distracting at times for some.

  6. I live in Vancouver, but spent the first 28 years of my life in the UK. I don’t think any of it is particularly harsh (well perhaps a little). I have always had the impression that Canadian kids get an easier ride. We Brits like to torture each other, it builds character!! And no, I am not refering to boarding schools.

    I was exactly the same age as Jason at that time and I guess I still am!!). It brought back a lot of memories that I had completely forgotten. The word ‘pleb’ springs to mind.

  7. Oh…I’m so glad you liked this one!! When I read it a few months back, I was really impressed with it!!

  8. Mark – Thanks for the comment, nice to hear from someone that experienced things firsthand. We must have it easy here in the U.S. too. And I can’t say I’m disappointed. 🙂

    Stephanie – David Mitchell sure knows how to write a good one, I need to look up his other two novels as well.


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