Cloud Atlas a year-and-a-half ago, I felt exhilarated. I had one of those rare moments where all of expectations for a book had been met and exceeded, when all the hype was really valid. I would have, without hesitation, told anyone listening that David Mitchell is a master, truly one of the greats. I bought all of his other books, anxious to read more of his stunning work.
Then I got scared. What if Cloud Atlas was just this one exuberant flash of brilliance, one that showed us how books can be different and amazing and incredible? So I watched all of my Mitchell books gather dust on my bookshelf, too worried about disappointment that I might face if I opened one. Finally, I decided to stop letting fear rule my book-reading and jumped into Black Swan Green.
The novel is about of Jason Taylor, who is thirteen and totally average. He grows up in the small English village of Black Swan Green in the mid-80s, the core of the Thatcher years. Jason's family consists of an older sister, Julia, who's getting ready to go off to university, his stay-at-home mother and his father, a high-ranking employee of a grocery chain. Jason goes to school, sucked into the world of how to stay cool and liked, despite his reputation-killing stammer.
There isn't much of a plot. That's not an accurate statement. That there is no driving incident is a better way of putting it. This isn't the kind of story that's focused on a conflict and action to resolve the conflict. It's like reading Jason's journal (which, if I'm not mistaken, is what we're doing) over the course of one year, just watching his life unfold at the complicated age he's facing. Rooting for him as he tries to navigate social life despite the utter cruelty of those around him, looking on sadly while he remains oblivious to the slow implosion of his parents' marriage.
Jason is a burdening poet, and his playfulness with language--and stammer-induced thoughts on it in general--are stunning. I am generally not a fan of stylized prose because authors are often too tempted by the chance to get flowery. The end result is often a lot of long sentences and weird metaphors with very little focus on anything else, which is frustrating. Mitchell is such a subtle stylist that his words feel effortless and read just as cleanly. I could spend days drowning in his words, and framing these around his sad narrator make their effect even more potent.
Black Swan Green for me was an unexpected delight. It's perfectly constructed, dazzlingly written, and emotionally loaded. Though I was ready to proclaim David Mitchell to the heights before, now I have a second piece of evidence. He is incredible.
My rating: 5/5
Black Swan Green on Goodreads
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