Black Swan Green tracks a single year in what is, for 13-year-old Jason Taylor, the sleepiest village in muddiest Worcestershire in dying Cold War England, 1982. But the 13 chapters, each a short story in its own right, create an exquisitely observed world that is anything but sleepy. A world of Kissinger-esque realpolitik enacted in boys' games on a frozen lake; of "nightcreeping" through the summer backyards of strangers; of the tabloid-fueled thrills of the Falklands War and its human toll; of the cruel, luscious Dawn Madden and her power-hungry boyfriend, Ross Wilcox; of a certain Madame Eva van Outryve de Crommelynck, an elderly bohemian emigre who is both more and less than she appears; of Jason's search to replace his dead grandfather's irreplaceable smashed watch before the crime is discovered; of first cigarettes, first kisses, first Duran Duran LPs, and first deaths; of Margaret Thatcher's recession; of Gypsies camping in the woods and the hysteria they inspire; and, even closer to home, of a slow-motion divorce in four seasons.
Pointed, funny, profound, left-field, elegiac, and painted with the stuff of life, Black Swan Green is David Mitchell's subtlest and most effective achievement to date.
©2006 David Mitchell; (P)2006 Random House, Inc. Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc.
"Great Britain's Catcher in the Rye, and another triumph for one of the present age's most interesting and accomplished novelists." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Gorgeous....Captures the sheer pleasure of being a boy and brings to mind adventures shared by Huck and Tom." (Publishers Weekly)
"He reproduces Jason's inner life with such astonishing verisimilitude that readers will find themselves haunted by him long after turning the last page." (Booklist)
Narration was spectacular. Right up there with Simon Vance.
David Mitchell combines beautiful subtle appreciation for the vagaries of human life--and in this book, the vagaries of smart adolescent life--with more than a touch of political correctness. For example, given that it's the 80s, it fits that Jason's mother would be flexing her newly found feminist powers. But to throw in an object lesson about how terrible it is to be prejudiced against gypsies, or the little homily about poetry not having to be beautiful--maybe we could have skipped that. And maybe instead the book could have given glimpses of what his father was going through, since the structural tension in the book was created by his loyalty to an ex-mistress and his attempts to save her. But all in all an immersive read and there's an Easter Egg in there for fans of Cloud Atlas.
What doesn't kill you can only make you stronger.
Great way to view how life would be for a young person that anyone can relate to.
I had just read this book six months earlier, but when I heard the audio sample wanted to buy it and listen to it anyway. They've chosen the ideal reader for this book: his accent is perfect, and his interpretation of the text and the characters is very sensitive. The book is a brilliant semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story by an author whose range is very impressive (from nightmarish futurism to historical fiction and plenty in between). This one is a realistic first-person narrative about a kid with a stammer and the usual tween anxieties. There's a full and convincing cast of secondary characters. The atmosphere is one of nostalgia for early 80s pop culture and sadness about the effects of an unhappy marriage; yet it is lightened by the humor and the fabulations of its bright 13 year old narrator. I'm sure that I'll listen to this again.
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
I was blown away by Cloud Atlas so I had to give this a try. Initially, I was disappointed that there were no clever postmodern devices. This is a straightup narrative of the life of a 13-year-old boy. And I was initially skeptical since I've always thought this genre was done to death by American authors. It pains me to say it, but Mitchell does this better than any American author I've come across. Plus, it's just plain better than any YA novel I've come across period. It's totally accessible to the YA audience but it's not marketed that way. And while he may eschew postmodern gimmicks here, there's a sophisticated structure underlying it. What seems like a simple slice of life book is actually composed of a number of interlocking storylines that ultimately all contribute to our young protagonist's understanding of his world. There just seems to be no limit to the talents of David Mitchell.
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.
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