Friday, April 06, 2007

David Mitchell, Black Swan Green, 2006.

Despite internship pressure, despite the busy-ness of Holy Week, I finished a novel that I thought was going to take me a lot longer to read. Black Swan Green is, you see, brutal. It is brilliantly written; it is a compelling read. Its sharply accurate portrayal of childhood, though, is brilliant.

The story is part general bildungsroman and part künstlerroman. Describing it that way might well frighten off people who have been forced to read too many of such things—ah, Wilhelm Meister, and your apprenticeship!—but Mitchell’s story of Jason Taylor as he moves from childhood to a more adult view of the world, and into someone who begins to take his art seriously—is fresh and entirely enjoyable.

It’s told from Taylor’s perspective, complete with daydreams, nightmares, and musings. The nasty pecking order of middle school, and bullies, and the sheer miserable-ness of other miserable people combined to bring back repressed memories in myself, which floods may well explain why I found it a brutal book to read. Taylor falls in love, watches the turmoil in his family, and tries to make sense of what it is to want to read and to write when such things are “gay”—and how desperately, madly, does he want to fit in and to be popular! Yet given opportunities for advancement, he rejects them when they conflict with his own developing moral sense. Jason’s the kind of kid you’d be happy to call your own: earnest, and trying to do the right thing. You just wouldn’t want him to have to go through his travails.

I’m making it sound like a dire book, but it’s infused as well with a gentle, self-deprecating humour. I can’t recommend it highly enough; Black Swan Green is a wonderful book, and one I’d like to see widely read.

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