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Black Swan Green [Paperback]

David Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 27 2007
By the New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas | Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize
 
Selected by Time as One of the Ten Best Books of the Year | A New York Times Notable Book | Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The Washington Post Book World, The Christian Science Monitor, Rocky Mountain News, and Kirkus Reviews | A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist | Winner of the ALA Alex Award | Finalist for the Costa Novel Award

From award-winning writer David Mitchell comes a sinewy, meditative novel of boyhood on the cusp of adulthood and the old on the cusp of the new.

Black Swan Green tracks a single year in what is, for thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor, the sleepiest village in muddiest Worcestershire in a dying Cold War England, 1982. But the thirteen chapters, each a short story in its own right, create an exquisitely observed world that is anything but sleepy. A world of Kissingeresque 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 emigré 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.

Praise for Black Swan Green
 
“[David Mitchell has created] one of the most endearing, smart, and funny young narrators ever to rise up from the pages of a novel. . . . The always fresh and brilliant writing will carry readers back to their own childhoods. . . . This enchanting novel makes us remember exactly what it was like.”The Boston Globe
 
“[David Mitchell is a] prodigiously daring and imaginative young writer. . . . As in the works of Thomas Pynchon and Herman Melville, one feels the roof of the narrative lifted off and oneself in thrall.”Time
 
“[A] brilliant new novel . . . In Jason, Mitchell creates an evocation yet authentically adolescent voice.”The New York Times Book Review
 
“Alternately nostalgic, funny and heartbreaking.”The Washington Post
 
“Great Britain’s Catcher in the Rye—and another triumph for one of the present age’s most interesting and accomplished novelists.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“This book is so entertainingly strange, so packed with activity, adventures, and diverting banter, that you only realize as the extraordinary novel concludes that the timid boy has grown before your eyes into a capable young man.”Entertainment Weekly


From the Hardcover edition.

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. For his fourth novel, two-time Booker Prize finalist Mitchell (Cloud Atlas, etc.) turns to material most writers plumb in their first: the semiautobiographical, first-person coming-of-age story. And after three books with notably complex narrative structure, far-flung settings, and multiple viewpoints, he has chosen one narrator, 13-year-old Jason Taylor, to tell the story of one year (1982) in one town, Worcestershire's Black Swan Green. Jason starts with the January day he accidentally smashes his late grandfather's irreplaceable Omega Seamaster DeVille watch and ends with Christmas, which, because of intervening events, becomes the last he spends in this sleepy Midlands hamlet. The gorgeously revealed cast includes Jason's brilliant older sister, sarcastic mother, blustering dad and a spectrum of bullies and mates. Jason's nemesis is an intermittent, fluctuating stammer: some days he must avoid words beginning with N; other days, S. Once he is exposed, the bullies taunt him mercilessly; there is no respite for the weak or disabled in Black Swan Green nor, as the realities of Thatcher's grim reign begin to take their toll, in England writ large. How Jason and his family navigate this year of change is the emotional core of this rich novel, but the virtuoso chapter is "The Bridle Path," wherein Jason, alone for one delicious day, searches for a tunnel fabled to have been dug by the Romans in order to rout the Vikings. What he finds along the way captures the sheer pleasure of being a boy and brings to mind adventures shared by Huck and Tom. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Thirteen chapters provide a monthly snapshot of Jason Taylor's life in small-town England from January 1982 to January 1983. Whether the 13-year-old narrator is battling his stammer or trying to navigate the social hierarchy of his schoolmates or watching the slow disintegration of his parents' marriage, he relates his story in a voice that is achingly true to life. Each chapter becomes a skillfully drawn creation that can stand on its own, but is subtly interwoven with the others. While readers may not see the connectedness in the first two thirds of the book, the final three sections skillfully bring the threads together. The author does not pull any punches when it comes to the casual cruelty that adolescent boys can inflict on one another, but it is this very brutality that underscores the sweetness of which they are also capable. With its British slang and complex twists and turns, this title is not a selection for reluctant readers, but teens who enjoy multifaceted coming-of-age stories will be richly rewarded. The chapter entitled Rocks, which centers around the British conflict in the Falkland Islands in May 1982, is especially compelling as Jason and his peers deal with the death of one of their own. Mitchell has been hailed as one of the great new authors of the 21st century; with Black Swan Green, he shows again how the best books challenge readers' complacency.–Kim Dare, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Life and Times of Jason Taylor Jan. 14 2011
By Dave and Joe TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Mitchell, who dazzled with Cloud Atlas, tells a much simpler story here in Black Swan Green. On the surface it's about a young boy becoming a young man, down deep it's about the human condition and about complex human relationships. Mitchell manages to create a fully believable 13 year old boy - a creature that's hard to catch in words - and allows you to see the world through his eyes. He is becoming alive to the lives of others around him and beginning to understand relationships, power and popularity. For a North American, like me, there was a lot of idiom that was unfamiliar and required some figuring out ... but that is no great surprise. When I talk to anyone under 15 I'm lost ... but when I invest the energy the rewards are well worth it. Black Swan Green is a classic read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Ride back to my childhood March 19 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The rhythm of prose brought me back on a lovely ride to my days as a young boy. Mr Mitchell describes boyhood adventure with great graphic intensity. Through all manner of emotion, including the local link in the Falklands War, this book is one I shall always cherish.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Touches on life May 11 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Enjoyable coming of age book that captures some of the real drama that growing up offers
Some great laughs included as well
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not just a coming of age novel Nov. 25 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Given the current buzz about bullying, particularly in the wake of Amanda Todd's suicide in Vancouver after being subjected to continuous harassment, it's striking to encounter a novel that is about almost every kind of bullying imaginable, from the dog-eat-dog world of soulless work to art criticism to family politics to, of course, the typical muck of public school hierarchies. As the dust cover announces, this is a voice similar to Holden Caulfield's in Catcher in the Rye, but it has no whining self-indulgence; instead, Jason Taylor is an utterly convincing 13-year-old persona from 1982 who describes his Worcestershire world with the eye of a poet but a documentarist's objective vision. Among other joys, this novel ends with some of the finest lines to conclude a book I've ever read. This is John Green for grown-ups.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  150 reviews
157 of 162 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The world's a headmaster who works on your faults." July 16 2006
By Jacquelyn Gill - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Some look back on their early adolescence with nostalgia, while others would rather forget the awkward stops and starts along the bumpy road where we begin as children and end as adults. Jason Taylor, narrator of David Mitchell's newest novel, reveals a life that is the source of both; he is a thirteen-year-old would-be poet navigating through one tragi-comic year in his young life. Each of the thirteen chapters in the novel chronicles a different month, and each features those moments in childhood that we believe at the time will mark (or scar) us forever. In Jason, Mitchell has conjured one of the most memorable and real narrators in literature; he reflects on girls, his parents' distintigrating marriage, the cruel initiations of adolescence, or the Falkland wars with equal pathos.

Black Swan Green takes place in a small English countryside town in 1982, and the book is flavored with Thatcher politics, British vernacular , and early 80's pop music. Unlike Mitchell's earlier novels, Black Swan Green is in many ways a novel about the pains and pleasures of the ordinary, and Jason scrutinizes the everyday with as much perception as major life events. Thirteen is an age where an embarrassment at school or a fight with one's parents takes on epic proportions, and yet time passes in such a way that last month's tragedies seem to fade into the distant past. Mitchell conjures this sense with such ease that Jason is a completely believable character, even as his thoughts reveal a remarkable sophistication.

In Cloud Atlas, Mitchell showed himself to be a master of the narrative voice, and in Black Swan Green he exceeds all expectations. Instead of writing what could have been an angst-ridden, self-fixated modern Holden Caulfield, Mitchell brings Jason out of himself with a well-rendered cast of supporting characters: his distant, workaholic father and his acidic mother, the merciless bullies at school, his fellow outcast friends, and various colorful townsfolk. Just as significant but more subtle are the internal characters that populate Jason's mind, including Unborn Twin (the voice of self-deprecation and fear) and his omnipresent arch-nemesis, the Hangman. Hangman is the embodiment of Jason's stammer, a speech impediment that often leaves "s" words frozen on his tongue.

I honestly cannot say enough positive things about this book; Mitchell's writing is gorgeous, Jason's insights at turns comic and heartbreaking. Black Swan Green is perhaps Mitchell's most autobiographic, and it certainly feels like the most grounded of his novels. Beware of the seeming simplicity - this book is neither ordinary nor typical. Rather than produce another quaint coming of age tale, Mitchell delivers a subtle and masterful rendering of an age that is nearly impossible to capture.

~ Jacquelyn Gill
56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem of a novel that is full of wit, insight, and appeal May 11 2006
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Man Booker Prize finalist David Mitchell's books have been praised for their complex themes and their out-of-the-box approach to storytelling. To read and understand one of his books is to feel as though you're taking apart and putting back together pieces of a puzzle in order to grasp a larger whole. Unlike his previous, more experimental novels (GHOSTWRITTEN, NUMBER9DREAM, CLOUD ATLAS), Mitchell's latest offering is more conventional and probably his most plot-driven to date --- except for the fact that nothing really happens. Nothing, that is, until after you've turned the last page. Months later, the novel's protagonist is still nestled comfortably in your brain and in your heart like a close friend who has moved away or a bittersweet memory leftover from childhood, still resonant with meaning.

BLACK SWAN GREEN chronicles thirteen months in the life of thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor --- each one of the thirteen chapters mirrors each of the thirteen months during the time in which the novel takes place --- told from his perspective and at his own meandering pace. Jason, his older sister Julie, and his parents inhabit the posh countryside of Black Swan Green, a slumbering village in South Worcestershire, England. The year is 1982 and England is entrenched in both the Cold War and the short-lived war over the Falklands. Life is fairly ordinary in the small town, aside from the occasional news reel intrusion, and so are the events that transpire throughout the course of the book.

What makes this book so captivating to read is precisely the simplicity of what's being described --- mainly, Jason's transition from adolescence into semi-adulthood. Over the course of thirteen months, he goes from being an awkward, prepubescent young boy with a pesky stammering problem to a soon-to-be young man with a backbone and a bit of experience under his belt. In the beginning, he is seen as an outcast, a weakling, a scab, and is relentlessly made fun of by his stronger, tougher peers. By the end, he has learned how to stand up for himself and has earned the respect not only of some of his tormentors, but of a certain young lady as well.

Although many will find the pleasure in witnessing Jason's ongoing mental and physical maturation process as familiar as watching that of any young person, what stands out as unique is the progression of his own particular self-awareness and the purity of his heart.

He is almost too creative and genuine for his own good (hence why he is constantly being picked on), yet completely unaware of his talents --- a rare occurrence in a boy that age. As a contrast to his gawky exterior, the way he expresses himself internally is downright poetic ("Listening to houses breathe makes you weightless"), and the steadfast earnestness with which he approaches life, albeit at an adolescent level, is incredibly humbling.

Over the course of thirteen chapters, Mitchell mixes just the right combination of insecurity, indignation and yearning to produce a series of vignettes, some of which are too precious to forget. His description in "Bridle Path" of Jason's day on his own while his family is away, first as the master of his house (putting his mother's mousse in his hair and drawing an Adam Ant stripe across his face; eating McVitie's Jamaican Ginger Cake and drinking a milk, coke, Ovaltine milkshake for breakfast; and listening to his sister's records at full volume), then as the brave explorer of the woods surrounding his home, is delightfully endearing and perfectly captures the spirit of what it's like to be young and carefree. In "Spooks," the description of Jason's initiation into a revered and secret club could have been lifted straight out of a young boy's journal, for all its excited eagerness, and the story of his first kiss in "Disco" is so full of nervous energy and longing that some readers might feel the urge to look away so as not to disturb the beauty of the moment.

The only event that may come as a shock is the very real nature of Jason's parents' failing marriage towards the end of the novel and the events that transpire following its collapse. But, in the wise words of now fourteen-year-old-Jason, "The world's a headmaster who works on your faults...you'll keep tripping over a hidden step, over and over, till you finally understand: Watch out for that step! Everything that's wrong with us...that's a hidden step. Either you suffer the consequences of not noticing your fault forever or, one day, you do notice it, and fix it. Joke is...There are always more."

BLACK SWAN GREEN is a true gem that seeps in at a snail's pace --- to be read and cherished for its wit, quiet and empathetic insights, and far-reaching appeal.

--- Reviewed by Alexis Burling
43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read, even if you have to do it for an AP Lit class Sept. 5 2006
By Leigh Lockhart - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Black Swan Green is a novel about a thirteen-yr-old English boy right on the brink of family turmoil, girls who flirt with you and then shove you off their tractor, the popularity game, and older sisters you don't realize how much you love until they leave home. However, it's not a book just for the guys. It's actually pretty entertaining from a female point of view. It's a window into the trials and tribulations of male puberty and with all of the scenarios that happen in the book, you see exactly how much life can sort of happen to you all at once, no matter your age or what you are going through personally.

I can honestly say that reading Black Swan Green was fun. Honest to God, FUN! It's a really hard book to put down once you get into the story line and the way the chapters end always leaves you wanting to read on. Being that I am a teenager myself, following Jason along for this year of his life was interesting, amusing, and even thought-provoking because Jason's was a life that was far different from my own, but one I could get into just from reading the book. You really feel like you know Jason, you feel bad for his stammer, you want everyone to know how good a poet he is as Bolivar, and you root for him in all aspects. I even enjoyed the way the book was written, like how Jason explains the hangman who only troubles him with certain words that start with certain words on certain days. The book on a whole has great imagery and such vivid descriptions that it's not hard to feel the cold weather of England, or the heat that surely rushes to Jason's face out of embarrassment when he has to say things in front of the class.

Overall, I recommend this book highly. The chronology is a little difficult to grasp at first, but you get around to putting the pieces together just in time. I had to read this for school but i'm glad to own it and will probably read it again in the future when i'm just in the mood for a good book.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally captured the experience July 8 2007
By Duck the Reader - Published on Amazon.com
The writing is fantastic. There's a scene where Jason's teacher sends him to on an errand to retrieve a whistle that's on top of a stack of photocopies of this text. I wish I'd gotten a copy when I was going through adolescence.

"Contrary to popular wisdom, bullies are rarely cowards.

Bullies come in various shapes and sizes. Observe yours. Gather intelligence.

Shunning one hopeless battle is not an act of cowardice.

Hankering for security or popularity makes you weak and vulnerable.

Which is worse? Scorn earnt by informers? Misery earnt by victims?

The brutal may have been moulded by a brutality you cannot exceed. Let guile be your ally.

Respect earnt by integrity cannot be lost without your consent.

Don't laugh at what you don't find funny. Don't support an opinion you don't hold.

The independent befriend the independent.

Adolescence dies in its fourth year. You live to be eighty."

David Mitchell, Black Swan Green.
45 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars lucky 13 April 16 2006
By N. goodey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
'Black swan green' has been descirbed as a simple touching tale i.e. it's more traditional in comparison with the brilliant cloud atlas, something the average might be more comfortable with. However if you look more closely the book is still very different for the genre.For a start it's divided into 13 tales which interlock rather than just being a story with one overarching narrative. Also the tales themselves have often slightly different feels .For example, the first story in the novel 'January man' feels more gothic horror or dickensian ghost story, as opposed to 'solarium' which uses a character from the robert frobisher section of cloud atlas and feels more early twentieth century french . However at no time does the reader feel that the tales don't belong together , something that requires quite considerable literary skill (which mitchell clearly possesses in spades)The other interesting thing is the age of the boy ..he's 13 .Usually these kind of tales feature boys of 16- 18 . By choosing this odd age, mitchell is able to investigate the twlight world of childhood which is beginning to be infused with sexual feeling. Consequently the novel feels fresher than a coming of age novel for example.

Anyway its genius, genuinely moving at points with real heart and something i can imagine readers of all ages loving .Superb.
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