David Mitchell – Black Swan Green

Books Reviews David Mitchell
David Mitchell – Black Swan Green

Expansive Brit’s portrait of a young bloke as a young bloke

In Black Swan Green, postmodern pyrotechnician David Mitchell detonates his fireworks in miniature. Far from the book-within-a-book puzzlebox of Cloud Atlas and the surreal Tokyo of Number9Dream (both Booker Prize-nominated), Black Swan Green settles in deepest Margaret Thatcher-era Worcestershire to describe a year in the winter of an adolescent’s discontent.

Cursed by a stammer and blessed with a rich internal life, Jason Taylor makes a sharp, beautiful narrator. “Squelch was just this kid you laugh at,” Jason observes of a friend. “But think about Squelch aged twenty, or thirty? …What’d happen to him? What’s so funny about that?”

Like Jonathan Lethem’s misty-eyed childhood Brooklyn in Fortress of Solitude, Mitchell dwells in the half-complete reasoning of prepubescent folk legends. What begins as a Cold War tone poem alternates meticulously between the simple (Jason’s feuding parents and older sister) and the transcendently picaresque (a tumble into a gypsy camp, a mysterious house in the woods).

While there are occasional handwritten dispatches from Jason, and a surprising Kilgore Trout-worthy conceptual continuity with Cloud Atlas, Mitchell’s trickbag is mostly opened to create the utterly probable. Black Swan Green ultimately implodes slowly into normalcy, less dizzying than an aching reliving of childhood’s end.

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