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Black Swan Green

Black Swan Green

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by David Mitchell
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

With this delightful coming-of-age tale, David Mitchell forsakes the grandiose settings and narrative leaps of his prior novel (the award-winning Cloud Atlas) for a seemingly miniaturized sort of novel. As he follows teenage Jason Taylor through 13 months of life in a sleepy English village (the Black Swan Green of the title), Mitchell explores themes as large as love, war, cruelty, courage, and poetry -- all through the voice of a stammering boy trying to survive school, his parents' disintegrating marriage, and the secret burden of his own hopes and dreams.
Ron Charles
Mitchell makes all this look easy, but from the pen of anyone less gifted, these stories would turn precious, maudlin or dull. He has a perfect ear for that most calamitous year, the first of the teens, when we come face-to-face with the volatile nature of life. There's plenty of sadness in that discovery, of course, but humor, too, and he spins them together subtly in this touching novel.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Any "whingers" out there won't feel comfortable in Mitchell's new novel of burgeoning and cruel adolescent boys in the rural but hardly pastoral England village of Black Swan Green. Heyborne, who performed one of the characters in the audiobook of Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, embodies the voice of 13-year-old Jason Taylor to perfection. His timbre is youthful and a tad reluctant, as might be expected of a teenager with a stammer who wants desperately to fit in with his rowdy friends. Jason's friends sound too much like Jason himself, but since they are viewed from Jason's perspective and since boys in a clique do tend to sound alike, the choices Heyborne makes are not problematic. The 1980s Worcestershire slang is more challenging, however. The addition of the letter "y" to words to form adjectives is somewhat "educationy," but it is sometimes hard to work through regionalisms that one cannot see in order to place them better. Although Mitchell's novel doesn't lives up to Lord of the Flies, which it derives from, Heyborne's performance is both compelling and compassionate, and the audio is entertaining and highly rewarding. Simultaneous release with the Random House hardcover (Reviews, Jan. 2). (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Mitchell, author of the amazing Cloud Atlas, re-creates the parallel universe inhabited by a 13-year-old English boy in 1982. It's a world of superstition, misinformation, obsession with social status, the mystery of girls, popular songs, school, his family's increasing dysfunction, and dimly understood political upheaval. Mostly though, Jason Taylor struggles with his stammer ("the hangman") and bullies. If they ever find out he writes poetry (as Eliot Bolivar), he'll just die. As in previous books, Mitchell's structure is a series of stories that add up to a novel. Recorded, some of the stories seem to end abruptly, but Kirby Heyborne's reading is a treat, never more so than when he tackles the accent of Madame Eva van Outryve de Crommelynck, an elderly migr who counsels Jason about his poetry, confronting him with a sophistication he can scarcely have imagined. From Jason's first cigarette to his first kiss, this novel finds the strange in the quotidian. The antique Brit slang delights as often as it baffles. Highly recommended as a great performance of one of the better novels of the year. John Hiett, Iowa City P.L. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Adolescent angst during the Margaret Thatcher-inflected year of 1982 is the subject of two-time Booker nominee Mitchell's lively (autobiographical?) fourth novel. It contrasts strikingly with the matter, and manner, of the intricate "systems novels" (Ghostwritten, 2000; Number9Dream, 2001; Cloud Atlas, 2004) that made his reputation, if only in the racy anguished voice of its 13-year-old narrator Jason Taylor. Jason, who grows up in a sleepy, quaintly named eponymous Worcestershire village, suffers from a mortifying speech defect (he stammers), his older sister Julia's stony condescension, his schoolmates' casual malice and repeated outcroppings of inopportune "boners." In short, he's a kid-albeit, in Mitchell's deft hands, an intriguingly sentient and thoughtful one. There are wonderful scenes of sexual near-discovery and boyish bravado set in the woods near Jason's home (in the vicinity of the Malvern Hills immortalized in William Langland's medieval poem "Piers Plowman"), which segue into more individual focus as we observe Jason's healing encounter with a reclusive "old witch," strained relations with his control-freak Dad (a harried supermarket manager) and weary Mum (who wants her independence) and an educative brief relationship with an aged bohemian (Madame Crommelnyck) who happens upon the poems Jason furtively writes (as "Eliot Bolivar") and-in the grandest of manners-undertakes to educate him. The episodic narrative thus proceeds through numerous embarrassments and enlightenments, within the confusing contexts of the Falklands War (Great National Crusade, or chauvinist folly?), Black Swan Green's communal plans to regulate the lives of its new gypsy population and Jason'spainful adjustment to his own emergent life and the fact that the stable family relationship that has always sheltered as well as smothered him is a thing equally capable of growth, change and confusion. Great Britain's Catcher in the Rye-and another triumph for one of the present age's most interesting and accomplished novelists.
From the Publisher
“[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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781588365286
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/11/2006
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
138,667
File size:
3 MB

Read an Excerpt

JANUARY MAN

Do not set foot in my office. That's Dad's rule. But the phone'd rung twenty-five times. Normal people give up after ten or eleven, unless it's a matter of life or death. Don't they? Dad's got an answering machine like James Garner's in The Rockford Files with big reels of tape. But he's stopped leaving it switched on recently. Thirty rings, the phone got to. Julia couldn't hear it up in her converted attic 'cause "Don't You Want Me?" by Human League was thumping out dead loud. Forty rings. Mum couldn't hear 'cause the washing machine was on berserk cycle and she was hoovering the living room. Fifty rings. That's just not normal. S'pose Dad'd been mangled by a juggernaut on the M5 and the police only had this office number 'cause all his other I.D.'d got incinerated? We could lose our final chance to see our charred father in the terminal ward.

So I went in, thinking of a bride going into Bluebeard's chamber after being told not to. (Bluebeard, mind, was waiting for that to happen.) Dad's office smells of pound notes, papery but metallic too. The blinds were down so it felt like evening, not ten in the morning. There's a serious clock on the wall, exactly the same make as the serious clocks on the walls at school. There's a photo of Dad shaking hands with Craig Salt when Dad got made regional sales director for Greenland. (Greenland the supermarket chain, not Greenland the country.) Dad's IBM computer sits on the steel desk. Thousands of pounds, IBMs cost. The office phone's red like a nuclear hotline and it's got buttons you push, not the dial you get on normal phones. So anyway, I took a deep breath, picked up the receiver, and said our number. I can say that without stammering, at least. Usually.

But the person on the other end didn't answer. "Hello?" I said. "Hello?"

They breathed in like they'd cut themselves on paper.

"Can you hear me? I can't hear you."

Very faint, I recognized the Sesame Street music.

"If you can hear me"-I remembered a Children's Film Foundation film where this happened-"tap the phone, once."

There was no tap, just more Sesame Street.

"You might have the wrong number," I said, wondering.

A baby began wailing and the receiver was slammed down.

When people listen they make a listening noise.

I'd heard it, so they'd heard me.

"May as well be hanged for a sheep as hanged for a handkerchief." Miss Throckmorton taught us that aeons ago. 'Cause I'd sort of had a reason to have come into the forbidden chamber, I peered through Dad's razor-sharp blind, over the glebe, past the cockerel tree, over more fields, up to the Malvern Hills. Pale morning, icy sky, frosted crusts on the hills, but no sign of sticking snow, worse luck. Dad's swivelly chair's a lot like the Millennium Falcon's laser tower. I blasted away at the skyful of Russian MiGs streaming over the Malverns. Soon tens of thousands of people between here and Cardiff owed me their lives. The glebe was littered with mangled fusilages and blackened wings. I'd shoot the Soviet airmen with tranquilizer darts as they pressed their ejector seats. Our marines'll mop them up. I'd refuse all medals. "Thanks, but no thanks," I'd tell Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan when Mum invited them in, "I was just doing my job."

Dad's got this fab pencil sharpener clamped to his desk. It makes pencils sharp enough to puncture body armor. H pencils're sharpest, they're Dad's faves. I prefer 2Bs.

The doorbell went. I put the blind back to how it was, checked I'd left no other traces of my incursion, slipped out, and flew downstairs to see who it was. The last six steps I took in one death-defying bound.

Moron, grinny-zitty as ever. His bumfluff's getting thicker, mind. "You'll never guess what!"

"What?"

"You know the lake in the woods?"

"What about it?"

"It's only"-Moron checked that we weren't being overheard-"gone and froze solid! Half the kids in the village're there, right now. Ace doss or what?" "Jason!" Mum appeared from the kitchen. "You're letting the cold in! Either invite Dean inside-hello Dean-or shut the door."

"Um . . . just going out for a bit, Mum."

"Um . . . where?"

"Just for some healthy fresh air."

That was a strategic mistake. "What are you up to?"

I wanted to say "Nothing" but Hangman decided not to let me. "Why would I be up to anything?" I avoided her stare as I put on my navy duffel coat.

"What's your new black parka done to offend you, may I ask?"

I still couldn't say "Nothing." (Truth is, black means you fancy yourself as a hard-knock. Adults can't be expected to understand.) "My duffel's a bit warmer, that's all. It's parky out."

"Lunch is one o'clock sharp." Mum went back to changing the Hoover

bag. "Dad's coming home to eat. Put on a woolly hat or your head'll freeze." Woolly hats're gay but I could stuff it in my pocket later.

"Good-bye then, Mrs. Taylor," said Moron.

"Good-bye, Dean," said Mum.

Mum's never liked Moron.

Moron's my height and he's okay but Jesus he pongs of gravy. Moron wears ankle-flappers from charity shops and lives down Druggers End in a brick cottage that pongs of gravy too. His real name's Dean Moran (rhymes with "warren") but our P.E. teacher Mr. Carver started calling him "Moron" in our first week and it's stuck. I call him "Dean" if we're on our own but name's aren't just names. Kids who're really popular get called by their first names, so Nick Yew's always just "Nick." Kids who're a bit popular like Gilbert Swinyard have sort of respectful nicknames like "Yardy." Next down are kids like me who call each other by our surnames. Below us are kids with piss-take nicknames like Moran Moron or Nicholas Briar, who's Knickerless Bra. It's all ranks, being a boy, like the army. If I called Gilbert Swinyard just "Swinyard," he'd kick my face in. Or if I called Moron "Dean" in front of everyone, it'd damage my own standing. So you've got to watch out.

Girls don't do this so much, 'cept for Dawn Madden, who's a boy gone wrong in some experiment. Girls don't scrap so much as boys either. (That said, just before school broke up for Christmas, Dawn Madden and Andrea Bozard started yelling "Bitch!" and "Slag!" in the bus queues after school. Punching tits and pulling hair and everything, they were.) Wish I'd been born a girl, sometimes. They're generally loads more civilized. But if I ever admitted that out loud I'd get bumhole plummer scrawled on my locker. That happened to Floyd Chaceley for admitting he liked Johann Sebastian Bach. Mind you, if they knew Eliot Bolivar, who gets poems published in Black Swan Green Parish Magazine, was me, they'd gouge me to death behind the tennis courts with blunt woodwork tools and spray the Sex Pistols logo on my gravestone.

So anyway, as Moron and I walked to the lake he told me about the Scalectrix he'd got for Christmas. On Boxing Day its transformer blew up and nearly wiped out his entire family. "Yeah, sure," I said. But Moron swore it on his nan's grave. So I told him he should write to That's Life on BBC and get Esther Rantzen to make the manufacturer pay compensation. Moron thought that might be difficult 'cause his dad'd bought it off a Brummie at Tewkesbury Market on Christmas Eve. I didn't dare ask what a "Brummie" was in case it's the same as "bummer" or "bumboy," which means homo. "Yeah," I said, "see what you mean." Moron asked me what I'd got for Christmas. I'd actually got £13.50 in book tokens and a poster of Middle-earth, but books're gay so I talked about the Game of Life, which I'd got from Uncle Brian and Aunt Alice. It's a board game you win by getting your little car to the end of the road of life first, and with the most money. We crossed the crossroads by the Black Swan and went into the woods. Wished I'd rubbed ointment into my lips 'cause they get chapped when it's this cold. Soon we heard kids through the trees, shouting and screaming. "Last one to the lake's a spaz!" yelled Moron, haring off before I was ready. Straight off he tripped over a frozen tire rut, went flying, and landed on his arse. Trust Moran. "I think I might've got a concussion," he said.

"Concussion's if you hit your head. Unless your brain's up your arse." What a line. Pity nobody who matters was around to hear it.

Meet the Author

David Mitchell is the award-winning and bestselling author of The Bone Clocks, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, Cloud Atlas, Number9Dream, and Ghostwritten. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Mitchell was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2007. With KA Yoshida, Mitchell translated from the Japanese the internationally bestselling memoir The Reason I Jump. He lives in Ireland with his wife and two children.


From the Hardcover edition.

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