Posted on | August 5, 2010 | 13 Comments
About five years back, with the launch of the iPod Shuffle, Apple declared “random is the new order” to the world, as “life is random” so we should “give chance a chance.”
What does any of this have to do with Black Swan Green? Well, nothing, really! However, it does have a lot to do with the way I’ve approached the works of David Mitchell – Unlike some book bloggers (e.g. Kerry), I haven’t read his works in any kind of order; just as and when I got my hands on one of his books. I never had a chance though. I didn’t even know who David Mitchell was (yes, I was living in a black hole of sorts) until one of my friends shoved number9dream in my hands, and insisted I read it. From the opening line, which I can still repeat off the top of my head, I was hooked. The rest, as they say, is history.
And so, I started my fourth book by David Mitchell eagerly, not quite knowing what to expect. I knew it was a coming-of-age story, and I half wondered if it would be similar to the surreal number9dream, or well – I didn’t really have an alternative.
Black Swan Green is much more of a “traditional” coming-of-age story. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I would have assumed it was Mitchell’s debut novel – not because of the quality of writing (seriously, I don’t think you can fault Mitchell’s quality of writing!), but more because the book was a lot more conventional than I’d have expected, specially considering it was released on the back of Cloud Atlas.
It’s 1982, the year of the Falklands War. Havoc is wreaking on that front, but thirteen year old Jason is fighting another battle: against bullies, against a stammering problem he can’t seem to get rid of, and harbouring a secret that might make him the laughing stock of the school: a secret desire to be a poet. Closer to home, his sister refers to him as “thing,” and his parents’ marriage is rocky – thirteen, it’s a “wonderful miserable age!”
Bluebells swarmed in pools of light where the sun got through the trees. The air smelt of them. Wild garlic smelt of toasted phlegm. Blackbirds sang like they’d die if they didn’t. Birdsong’s the thoughts of a wood. Beautiful it was, but boys aren’t allowed to say “beautiful” ’cause it’s the gayest word going.
As opposed to a linear narrative, this book is essentially a set of snapshots in Jason’s life as a thirteen year old, focusing on the events that help him mature, as he realises some hard truths about life, be it about his friend’s father’s alcoholism
“[…]Tell you what it’s like, it’s like this whiny shitty nasty weepy man who isn’t my dad takes my dad over for however long the bender lasts, but only I – and Mum and Kelly and Sally and Max – know that it isn’t him. The rest of the world doesn’t know that, see. They just say, Frank Moran showing his true colours, that is. But it ain’t” Moran twisted his head at me. “But it is. But it ain’t.[…]”
or, about the cruelty of war, and how it ruins lives
War’s an auction where whoever can pay most in damage and still be standing wins.
Okay, maybe that’s a little too profound for a thirteen year old, but the point still stands! Speaking of profundity, how’s this:
I’ve never listened to music lying down. Listening’s reading if you close your eyes. Music’s a wood you walk through.
And then, you have some mixed with a desperate call for anger management:
Me, I want to kick this moronic bloody world in the bloody teeth over and over till it bloody understands that not hurting people is ten bloody thousand times more important than being right.
Oh! To be thirteen again…
I enjoyed this book, and the various episodes of Jason’s life, despite the fact that at times, he really did seem older and wiser than his years (above excerpts withstanding). It was an easy read, but delightful at the same time, and it was a story I could relate to – being someone born in the eighties myself! I got most of the music references, be it Duran Duran, Beatles, Sex Pistols, Joy Division or the infamous “Do the Locomotion”. It took me back a long way, and I was reminiscing away about my life and how things were about a decade ago! I could identify with Jason’s preoccupations and concerns at times, and I sympathised with him on the whole rivalry with the sibling – been there, done that! My brother and I couldn’t possibly be closer now. Oh, how times change…
Have you read any David Mitchell? Any favourites? I still have Ghostwritten to go, so I’m really looking forward to that.
Also, do you have any other favourite coming-of-age stories? I do love reading them – they almost always take me away to a simpler easier time. Do you feel the same as well about comfort reads?
Just as an aside for you David Mitchell fans out there who’ve read Cloud Atlas as well:
Madame Crommelynck, the daughter of the famous composer in Cloud Atlas, makes an appearance in this book, when she attempts to introduce Jason to European literature. She plays Robert Frobisher’s Cloud Atlas Sextet for the teenager, who is awed by it (see quote above). I loved that bit! Any idea if there are any more references to other characters from his previous books that I’ve missed?