Monday, March 26, 2007

Black Swan Green - A Book Review by Wendy


The world's a headmaster who works on your faults. I don't mean in a mystical or a Jesus way. More how you'll keep tripping over a hidden step, over and over, till you finally understand: Watch out for that step! Everything that's wrong with us, if we're too selfish or too Yessir, nosir, Three bags full sir or too anything, that's a hidden step. -From Black Swan Green, page 291-

Thirteen year old Jason Taylor narrates a year of his life in this original coming-of-age story set in a sleepy English Village in 1982. A sensitive, imaginative youth who struggles with a persistant stammer (referred to as 'Hangman'), Jason captures the essence of adolescence with all of its pain, humor and budding sexuality. Mitchell's brilliant writing plunges the reader back in time to the adventures of youth...such as the joy of spending a Saturday exploring forgotten paths through the woods and playing in abandoned barns.

In 1982, Britain found itself embroiled in the Falklands War, and Mitchell weaves this through the novel, using it as a backdrop to the undercurrents of domestic unrest within Jason's home.

A Pyrrhic victory is one where you win, but the cost of winning is so high that it would've been better if you'd never bothered with the war in the first place. Useful word, isn't it?
-From Black Swan Green, page 115-

Mitchell's novel pulls the reader into its pages with remarkable characterizations and spot on dialogue (although to be honest, as a non-Brit reader, the dialect took a bit of getting used to). Even the character's names are unique, such as Squelch Hill, Gilbert Swinyard, Pete Redmarley, Miss de Roo and Mr. Inkberrow. Dawn Madden, tough-as-nails and sexy, and her power hungry boyfriend who embody the cruelty that lurks in all childhoods; and the magnificent Eva Van Outryve de Crommelynck are just a few of the many characters who materialize in living, breathing form. When Madam Crommelynck meets Jason for the first time and discovers his age, she says:

"Ackkk, a wonderful, miserable age. not a boy, not a teenager. Impatience but timidity too. Emotional incontinence." -From Black Swan Green, page 144-

I fell in love with Jason Taylor - perhaps because he writes poetry while still trying to keep up with the town bullies, or maybe because of his wry humor, or possibly due to his fine vision of what is important in life. At any rate, this is a kid that snatches the reader's heart and hangs onto it until the end.

At once both searingly honest and outrageously funny, Black Swan Green is a must read.

Highly Recommended.

Favorite Passages

Down the hollow, round the bend, I came across a thatched cottage made of sooty bricks and crooked timber. Martins were busy under its eaves. PRIVATE said a sign hung on the slatted gate, where the name should go. newborn flowers in the garden were licorice allsorts blue, pink, and yellow. Maybe I heard scissors. maybe I heard a poem, seeping from its cracks. So I stood and listened, just for a minute, like a hungry robin listening for worms. -From Black Swan Green, page 70-

A bolt slid like a rifle and an old man opened up. His skin was blotched as a dying banana. He wore a collarless shirt and braces. "Good Afternoon?" -From Black Swan Green, page 142-

I dip my fountain pen into a pot of ink, and a Wessex helicopter crashes into a glacier on South Georgia. I line up my protractor on an angle in my Maths book and a Sidewinder missile locks onto a Mirage III. I draw a circle with my compass and a Welsh Guard stands up in a patch of burning gorse and gets a bullet through his eye. How can the world just go on, as if none of this is happening? -From Black Swan Green, page 106-

The Original post of this review may be found on my blog here.

5 comments:

Laura said...

I, too, loved this book. It's a wonderful coming of age novel that is easy to relate to. I also found the descriptions of the main characters home environment, and the nature of his friendships, particularly poignant. Being 14 is tough ... !

Wendy said...

I wouldn't go back to being 14 for anything! This book brought back many of my own memories - and yes, very poignant. I can't wait to read Cloud Atlas in April.

kookiejar said...

I wonder if those crazy names that he uses aren't a bit of a tribute to Charles Dickens who used names like Uriah Heep, Mr Murstone, Honeythunder, Mr Quilp and Ebeneezer Scrooge to name a few. I really enjoyed this book too, and I might have to go back and re-read it later. Great review Wendy.

Wendy said...

Thanks, Kookiejar.

Interesting you mention Dickens, because I think this had an Oliver Twist sort of feel to it in some ways (more due to character development than plot). Mitchell has really established himself as an amazing writer with this book. His other books have been short-listed for awards and/or won awards too - I'm looking forward to reading his other novels.

kookiejar said...

I think I'll read something else of his, too. I know what you mean about the Oliver Twist-iness of the character development. I also liked how the boy had two struggles to contend with...the outer struggle with the kids in the town and the inner struggle to control his stutter, and how the two intertwined (when one problem got too bad, it would make the other worse).