Saturday, February 3, 2007

Black Swan Green

Black Swan Green
by David Mitchell

What a beautiful, beautiful novel… It’s one of the best (if not the best) coming-of-age story I’ve read.

Story follows one year in life of Jason Taylor, 13 year old boy from Black Swan Green in Worcestershire, England. Truth, Jason who is also the narrator is hardly common 13 year old boy in the way he expresses himself; his thoughts are so beautifully composed, so full of that sophisticated humour, often with few drops of irony (which is not typical in his age) but in the same time he is sometime so naïve and experience-less; in his explanation and in the way he perceive things we can se one beautiful spotless mind. There are many sad moments which are becoming even sadder when you realize the way he seeing them in his pureness but also there are numerous hilarious moments which are even more hilarious when you look at them through his eyes (for example scene with one nice lady whom he saw accidentally (after their conversation) standing with her skirt up in a front of pissoir (I think) and her legs were hairier than his dad’s or seeing his dad naked …etc).

By his appearance Jason is a common boy who wouldn’t raise your attention, except if he try to talk and then get stuck with his stammering on some evil N or S (depends of the day). Luckily his inner talk is so poetic and fluent even in the way he’s describing all that Hangman’s torture with Ns and Ss.
Reading about his suffer I could feel the pain of boyhood again … identifying with Jason is so easy … it seems that problems of teenage boys are universal. (No I didn’t have problems with stammering)

Also characters who are surrounding Jason and the way he sees them is breathtaking. Oh you’ll love his friends and truly hate his enemies; and you’ll love his sister (one brilliant mind) even though sometimes he wouldn’t agree with you. There are so many beautiful portraits that is really hard to pick one.
However I have personal reason to pick one of those; one “crazy” old lady, one of mine favourite episodes. I’ll post part of their conversation here:

- […]”I mean, who are your masters? Chekhov?”
- “Er … no.”
- “But you’ve read Madame Bovary?”
- (I’d never heard of her books) “No”
Each name climbed up the octave. “Herman Hesse?”
- “No” Unwisely, I tried to dampen Madame Crommelnyk’s disgust. “We don’t really do Europeans at school”
- “ ‘Europeans’? England is now drifted to the Caribbean? Are you African? Antarctican? You are European, you illiterate monkey of puberty! Thomas Mann, Rilke, Gogl! Proust, Bulgakov, Victor Hugo! This is your culture, your inheritance , your skeleton! You are ignorant even of Kafka?”
I flinched. “I’ve heard of him.”
- Translations are incourteous between Europeans! […]Ackkk, for your schoolmasters, for your minister of education, execution is too good! Is not even arrogance! […] You English, you deserve that the government of Monster Thatcher! I curse you with twenty years of Thatchers! Maybe then you comprehend, speaking one language only is prison![…]

When I’ve read that I raised my head from the book feeling so poor. Feeling was really kind of shitty and THEN, suddenly I realized that the book I’m reading is not written in my mother tongue. This probably sounds silly I know; I didn’t learn English (then I remembered Spanish too) yesterday but in that very moment I felt such an enormous joy and happiness cause I’m able, ACTUALLY ABLE to read in foreign language. All my grammar mistakes and limited vocabulary were irrelevant; I felt so ... liberated :) :) :)



Bonnie Jeanne said...

I've picked up this book a dozen times and haven't gotten through more than the first few pages. I think it is the whole "coming of age" schtick that turns me off. I don't particularly like the genre, and it has become its own genre. But, since you love the story so much, I will try harder next time I pick it up. I loved Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas."

Got an interview today at the biggest library in Pittsburgh. Oh my goodness... I would so love to work at this library.

bookish lore said...

What a beautiful review! I so want this book!

There's something about coming-of-age stories; can't really explain. Chances are we haven't gone through the same things these characters have, well, except the growing up part, but that is a bond strong enough to stir up our fondest/saddest memories. We grow with these stories again, fill the gaps. At least, I do.

Liberated! Indeed! I've never thought of that. Thank you for sharing that beautiful passage.

Milan-zzz said...

Zmrzlina I guess in my case identifying with Jason was crucial.

After your comment I was thinking about other coming-of-age novels and truth is I’m quite new in this and only novel that I can remember is Catcher in the Rye which I hated. Holden Caulfield was so extremely irritating and also the style was in some hey-bro style and felt quite uncomfortable because it was already presumed that I’m a friend of the main character without letting me to decide. I really dislike that James-Dean-rebellious-without-any-reason attitude.

Jason Taylor is however one common boy and I think it’s very hard to have some negative emotion toward him and also he really is letting you page after page to know and like him and moreover he’s letting you to like people around him in spite the fact that he doesn’t show them true emotion sometimes. Means, even when he’s rude his inner voice is telling you that he knows how he should act but for some reason (obviously puberty) he can’t … until one scene where he completely conscious is doing right thing in spite the huge consequence that will come (and then comes another, etc).

As I said it was really easy for me to indemnify with him; I was also common boy not among chosen few most popular in the class; I also wrote and hid my work; but unlike Jason I was somehow ‘interesting’ for others in the class probably because I wasn’t try so hard to be popular or at least to be in liked by popular classmates. On the contrary I openly expressed my lack of interest upon that goal but they knew that they could count on me for help on exams etc.

Anyhow, in general Jason and I (in his age of course) have lots of similarity and indeed I think that’s why I liked this novel so much.

And somehow in spite the fact that this his Mitchell’s latest novel and that I have previous three as well I wanted to start with Black Swan Green. I know it doesn’t have anything common with previous three in style and construction (in theme too of course) and I’m sure I’ll love Ghostwritten; Number9Dream & Cloud Atlas as well because hardly that nonlinear style with surreal twist will disappoint me :)

Oh and I would LOVE to read on your blog (or find an e-mail in my inbox subject) “I’ve got the job!” Thinking about you and sending you all positive vibes ~ + ~ + ~ + ~ + ~

Milan-zzz said...

bookish lore I’d gladly share with you this book but Black Swan Green is already on its way to UK. I offered it on Best of 2006 Swap I hosted and mailed it today (yes I’ve read it last year and whole January I was re-reading my favourite parts); and yes, I was lazy to write review earlier ...
I think I’ll buy this novel for my private collection sometimes in the future.

pussreboots said...

I heard the radio 4 reading of it last year (or was it two years ago?). Anyway, it was very good and I've been wanting to read the book for myself since then. I think I'm actually on a book ring for it so maybe the book will find its way to me one of these days.

Anyway, great review. I enjoyed reading it. See you over at BookObsessed.