Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
Not as powerful as Mitchell's superb Cloud Atlas, but an authentic portrayal of adolescence, set in early 1980s England. The book's protagonist, Jason Taylor, is a quiet, uncertain boy who struggles with a stutter. Through his much more even inner voice, Mitchell recreates with unflinching honesty all the joys and terrors of adolescence. Jason maintains a precarious hold near the bottom of the school social ladder, endures relentless torment from bullies, and watches his parents' marriage unravel month by month. The bullies are especially effective characters, as Mitchell makes sure they're just as bad as adult readers have tried to forget they were, and just as overpowering in their cruelty.
But, it's not all trial: there's friendship, first love, and the eventual turning point of hard-won confidence and social acceptance. Nor does Mitchell skimp on all the ordinary details of being 13 -- classes, walks in the woods, encounters with neighbors, crushes on girls, conversations at the family dinner, accidentally seeing one's father drunk and naked -- it's really these moments, experienced intimately through a 13 year old point of view, that drive the book.
Though not to the same degree as Cloud Atlas, there are a few touches of the fanciful. In the course of the novel, Jason meets several oddball characters who seem at least as much like literary figures as real people. Their presence, though not crucial to the story, challenges, in a winking way, both Jason's and the reader's politely restrained attitudes about life. One character, in fact, is an aged version of someone who appears in Cloud Atlas.
The novel has a very episodic structure, with the larger plot arc unfolding at a leisurely pace, and a narrative that consists, for the first three quarters of so, of small daily events that feed Jason's inner life, rather than drastically altering the course of his outer one. But this inner life and its reflections are really the point of the book, and patient readers will find much to like (especially the 1980s British slang) in Mitchell's eyes-open portrait of an age, time, and place. As with Cloud Atlas, Mitchell shows a talent for taking simple, familiar scenes and giving them an elusive air of meaning above the scene's own significance.
Side note: Some readers have complained that Jason sounds a little too eloquent to be a 13 year old. Yeah, I agree that no 13 year old talks like him, but I don't think it was so much Mitchell's intent to capture what a 13 year old *says* as it was to capture how one *thinks*. Sometimes a writer has to take a few creative liberties to get inside someone's head. Our own voices are always more "adult" in there, anyway.
I got this book because I recently met Kirby Heyborne and wanted to hear his narration. He did a awesome job but the book was very slow. The author didn't seem to finish what was going sometimes and would just jump a few months ahead in the story. Over all it is a just a ok book.
Brit in Exile
Wonderful capturing of young teenager's world in Britain in the 1980s plus some great commentary on relationships, political events and social mores.
The authenticity of the world of Black Swan Green - as an English guy who has lived in the States for the last 13 years, it was such a realistic reminder of life in the UK and particularly the period in question when we were actually in residence in the homeland.
The actual intonation and reading was pretty good, but unfortunately this narrator is clearly not British or if he is, is suffering ironically from a speech problem (the main protagonist and young teenager who narrates the story in the book has a stammer). The mis-reading of 'a' in a lot of words is very off-putting and very strange. Instead of Hangman the narrator says 'Hengman' and the older characters are apparently Ardults not adults. Gerry Drake should be Gary Drake etc. Also, even though there is very clear description of the difference between a stammer and a stutter, when the narrator is demonstrating young Jason's speech defect he stutters instead of stammers even though he is supposed to have a stammer??
Jason of course - the boy about whom the story is written
Overall a great read, just need to employ a British narrator to read a British character's narration.
NOT COMPREHENSIBLE, LINGUISTICALLY AND FOR THAT REASON ALONE I CANNOT RECOMMEND THE BOOK. IT IS NO EASIER TO READ THAN TO LISTEN TO - THE STORY ITSELF HAS MERIT.