Sunday, December 23, 2012

Book Review: Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

from here
I picked up Black Swan Green from our local library's annual book sale. I didn't remember much about it, beyond recalling the title on some "best books of Two Thousand whatever" from a few years ago. I didn't immediately make the connection to Cloud Atlas, also by David Mitchell.

So, it sat on a shelf, waiting to be read. When I needed a book for the flight down to Florida for my grandfather's memorial, I brought it along. And devoured it.

I rave about a lot of the great books I read. Of the books I read this year, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, Let the Great World Spin, and The Monsters of Templeton all occupy space in a top tier above raving. It's a spot where the material and skill of the author is so strong that it makes spend several days afterwards telling everyone I know about it. They're great books, steeped in their own worlds and messy at the edges in the way real life is. Their stories are tightly woven, but told in a way that is so authentic that we can't see the seams where the author guides us along.

Add Black Swan Green to the list.

A bildungsroman, each chapter highlights a different event of the stammering thirteen year old British boy who serves as our narrator. Caught on the cusp of adulthood, Jason's world is the perfectly captured world of childhood. Jason's fears- being outed as a stammerer, not understanding the slang of the boys on the schoolyard, keeping his parents happy- are pitch perfect. His struggle to come to grips with the larger world takes many forms- a broken pocket watch, the Falklands War, the poems he writes but is ashamed to share, a first kiss.

The best part of Black Swan Green is how it refuses to tie anything up neatly. Things end, lives end, stories end. But we never fully resolve all the forces that brought us to those ends. If I have a complaint, it's that the book ends with a platitude that I've used for years:
big sister says to Jason, "It'll be all right, in the end."
"It doesn't feel very all right."
"That's because it's not the end."

Book 46 of my book-a-week challenge.

No comments:

Post a Comment