Monday, March 18, 2013

Book 35: Black Swan Green

I've read Cloud Atlas, Ghostwritten and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell, and enjoyed them all thoroughly.  Despite this, I have been in no rush to pick up Black Swan Green.  I assumed it would be good but I still wasn't quite that interested in reading a coming of age novel.  Also, I've noticed there are some authors that I feel like I have to read their whole backlog as soon as I discover them, while others I slowly get back to, even if I loved the novel I read.  I am not sure what determines the distinction, but I think it might also be that as I get older, I don't always rush out as much as quickly unless it's the beginning of a series.
Jason, the novel's thirteen year old narrator, is one of those kids that doesn't quite fit into any of the cliques.  As the novel begins, he is not popular but he isn't unpopular or an outcast, either.  The novel covers about a year of his life, and each chapter felt like it took place in a different month (I think there are thirteen so that's not completely accurate), sometimes referring to events in previous chapters, sometimes not.  Jason doesn't fill in all the blanks between one chapter or another, so in some cases it is up to the reader to guess what may have happened in the last few weeks, but the novel certainly seems to address the highlights of Jason's life that year.  Jason has a few fears in his life - he writes poetry that gets published under a fake name, and if anyone were to ever discover this, his social life would be ruined.  He also has a stammer which is different from a stutter that he has mostly been hiding from the kids at school by avoiding trigger words as much as possible.
The novel takes place in 1982, so there are references to old videogames, the Falkland Wars and other cultural pieces from that time.  While Jason is mostly a sweet kid, it took me a while to get into the novel and to actually care about the middle school politics and rules of popularity.  One chapter in particular just involved him walking around in the woods, searching for adventures, and I was just about ready to give up on the story.  In the first half especially, I was more interested in the adults in Jason's life, the undercurrents between his parents that he doesn't quite understand, and I liked being able to compare his interpretation of events to what was actually going on or what Mitchell wanted the reader to think.  The turning point in the novel for me was when an older woman in the town takes an interest in Jason's poetry, and she discusses a composer Robert Frobisher while playing his sextet that is now unavailable for purchase.  If you've never read Mitchell before, she will just be an eccentric old woman but if you've read Cloud Atlas you'll recognize the names and the connection so I quite enjoyed that shout out to his readers.  Another one that I caught was that the DJ played "number nine dream" at a school dance, which happens to be the title of a Mitchell novel I haven't yet read.  There may very well be other connections to the author's other works, but those were the two in particular that struck me.  After the Frobisher chapter, I was much more involved in the story, especially since it soon becomes clear that there has been a shift in Jason's social standing at school as he has clearly dropped down from his precarious position in the social rankings at his school.
Overall, it wasn't a bad novel at all, but it's just not really a topic I'm generally that interested in.  While I liked Jason, it took me a while to really care about the character and what was happening to him and around him.  However, once I became engaged, I quite enjoyed it.  However, I don't think I would recommend this as a starting point to a reader new to Mitchell unless they also happen to be into stories about young boys/teens growing up and dealing with life.

1 comment:

denesteak said...

I'm sorry you didn't like this as much as I did! I am a very book fan of young adult ( though this isn't really young adult, I don't think) so maybe that's why it resonated with me so much.