Black Swan Green, David Mitchell, Random House, 2006, 294 pp
Excerpt of Summary from Goodreads: 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.
Continuing my completist reading of David Mitchell. This is his fourth novel and bears little resemblance to the first three. Although like Number9Dream, the protagonist is a teenage boy.
Thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor lives with his mum and dad in a dull little English village, Black Swan Green. His parents are deep in conflict and their relationship unravels throughout the one year covered in the novel. Jason's worries center around his school life where he is bullied. He tries everything to get accepted by the lads and kissed by a girl.
It is 1982. Mitchell includes Margaret Thatcher, the war in the Falklands, the music of the time. 1982 was a year when I paid not a whit of attention to the world around me so I am always amazed to read novels set in those times of political conservatism when Thatcher and Reagan wrote the playbook. Honestly, I am quite sure I was better off not knowing.
Yesterday I was listening to an interview with Hanya Yanagihara, author of the 2015 sensation A Little Life (a book I own in hardcover but haven't been able to bring myself to read.) She states that placing a novel in a specific time and place distracts the reader from the inner lives of the characters. In the case of this novel, I must disagree.
Jason's inner life is almost completely made up of the influences of his time and place. Of course, we know that David Mitchell is a master of interweaving time and place with universal themes. In Black Swan Green, he took the universal theme of a boy entering puberty while his parents destroy their marriage and made it an intimate story of one boy's inner life. It is amusing, heartbreaking, and strangely intense for such a slight book.
My only critical thought is that sometimes the author's voice intruded too much and threw me out of Jason's head. Particularly at the end when the kid is having realizations but sounds more like a 30-year-old than a boy who just turned 14.
(Black Swan Green is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)