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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
FINALIST FOR THE COMMONWEALTH WRITERS' PRIZE FOR BEST BOOK (Europe and South Asia)
FINALIST FOR THE COSTA NOVEL AWARD
LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE
A Globe and Mail Best Book
A New York Times Notable Book
“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
“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