Select one of the keywords
Black Swan Green    by David Mitchell order for
Black Swan Green
by David Mitchell
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

Read an Excerpt

* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

David Mitchell's portrayal of a year (1982) in the life of thirteen-year old Jason Taylor of the village of Black Swan Green in Worcestershire, England is profound, piercing, at times funereal. The spotlight shines on Jason's home, parents, and siblings, his hiding a talent for writing poetry, and his stammering. Jason refers to his stammer as Hangman (which he uses as the title of a poem). He's always thinking ahead for words to use in place of those he stammers, but his classmates have no pity or understanding, and often ridicule him.

Jason publishes under the pen name of Eliot Bolivar in the Black Swan Green Parish Magazine. He keeps his talent a secret because others would 'gouge him to death'. He meets Madame Eva van Outryve de Crommelynck, who lives in the vicarage. She discusses and deciphers the nature of his poetry, recognizing that Jason is 'afraid that the hairy barbarians will not accept you into their tribe if you write poetry.' We see Jason with his friend Dean Moran (aka Moron). When playing hide 'n seek, Jason tells us it took an hour before Moron figured out that no one was looking for him. This is topped by Jason's bad luck in a fall on the ice that destroys his grandfather's Omega Seamaster De Ville watch, handed down son-to-son ... gulp! Jason doesn't dare tell Dad.

Jason relates events in 1982 surrounding the Falklands War. The village mourns the loss of one of its own, Thomas Yew - 'War may be an auction for countries. For soldiers it's a lottery.' Mum and Dad's relationship is not copacetic, and Jason ponders whether they ever smiled at each other like sis Julia and her boyfriend Ewan do. Sometimes Jason 'wants to bloody kick this moronic bloody world in the bloody teeth over and over till it bloody understands that not hurting people is ten bloody thousand times more bloody important than being right'.

Some North American readers will be challenged by the English vernacular in Black Swan Green, as in 'ring your mom on our jellybone'. I appreciated the fact that each chapter is a story within itself, yet connected with the others, making for a relaxing read, as well as the subtlety of Mitchell's wise and witty messages. He writes, 'True poetry is truth. Truth is not popular, so poetry also is not ... truth about the life, the death, the heart, memory, time ... If an art is free of falsenesses, it is, a priori, beautiful.' He also reminds us that 'Respect earned by integrity cannot be lost without your consent.'

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Contemporary books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews