Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Black Swan Green is a novel of nostalgia about a year in the life of Jason Taylor. Just turning thirteen, it’s England in the 80s with pop music, Thatcher and meetings about gypsy settlements.

If you grew up in the 80s much of the pleasure you might derive from the novel comes through the use of brands and events that trigger the memory. However, this isn’t merely nostalgia, this is a year in which Jason, a stammerer, is vilified and bullied at school, explores his poetry through the medium of a Belgian Belle Dame, has his first kiss, makes a proper friend, overcomes his demons and witnesses the demise of his parents relationship.

The difficulties of all these situations are explored in depth through Jason’s young eyes. We learn about the popularity league table and how politics both local and national are played out in practice within this little town in Worcestershire.

This child’s eye view is beautifully rendered. Some experiences – such as being locked inside an old woman’s house by the lake, his ankle wrapped in an old-fashioned poultice – have a surreal edge pertinent to childhood because the unexpected is a more frequent visitor of people engaged in exploring the world around them.

Though this child’s view is sharp and illuminating, it is sometimes unrealistically so. I found myself wishing that I’d had such a penetrating mind at that age only to then question whether I might indeed have been this insightful. For the beauty of this novel is its depiction of the boundless scope of Jason’s mind, a thirst for comprehension that reinvigorated my own.

I really enjoyed Black Swan Green and I admired the writing. There were painful chinks in the warm nostalgia but perhaps, in the end, the novel felt a little too sweet. As my first Mitchell novel however (I know, he’s been recommended to me many times…) it has whet my appetite and I look forward to reading more of his work.

As this review should have been posted last week – I had it written but was enjoying a mountain holiday remote from the wonders of the internet – I will be posting this week’s review of Kinder than Solitude by Yiyun Li tomorrow. I should also mention that while I was away, some wonderful reviews of my novel Home appeared. Thank you Keri O’Shea for Brutal as Hell and The Eloquent Page.

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