Andrew 's Reviews > Black Swan Green

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
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's review
Dec 14, 12

bookshelves: contemporary
Read from April 09 to December 07, 2012

If there ever was a competition for how many 80s brand references you could fit into one novel then this one would win hands down. Although this might mean that it starts off as nostalgia trip for people who were around back then (myself among them!), it does start to irritate eventually and in my opinion slightly undermines the attempt to create a sense of time and place because it is so jarring. Even in the brand-obsessed world that has evolved since then we don’t initially think in terms of brands when want to buy something to eat or wear. Do we? Or am I the last person marketeers have yet to reach? I certainly didn’t back then.

Anyway, this novel is about Jaycen, a thirteen year old boy growing up in a small town in Worcestershire in the early 80s. He is a bright kid with a lack of self-confidence who is bullied but is desperate to fit in despite despising most of his peers. His parents are going through marital problems (again, was a failing marriage really such a social stigma in the 80s? I don’t remember it being so), he is just starting to like girls, he doesn’t have many friends, and intellectually appears to be much more mature his years would suggest.

So fairly standard coming-of-age stuff then, and like most such novels designed to appeal to those adults who felt they were outsiders when growing up. Countless US High School films have covered similar themes but you don’t often see it from a British comprehensive school perspective. Jaycen is quite engaging as a character and as a reader you want him to succeed in his quest to survive being a social outcast and take revenge on some of his bullies. The novel’s best sections are often the funniest too, and they seem to succeed because they are the bits that are timeless – the era is irrelevant as they could speak to anyone growing up in any period.

I was reading this aloud to someone and I have to confess I got a little bored in places though. The start was well set up but the pace drifts for the second and third quarters and not much really happens. Perhaps it is not the best to read aloud in small episodic chunks and instead maybe should just be read to yourself. For me though, it seemed to not really get going until a sequence with gypsies near the end, and after that the ending is actually mostly good fun.

However overall it nicely written, even if nothing much happens. There are a lot of truths about life growing up in a council estate or on the fringes of one (from any era) that I can personally testify to but correctly doesn’t suggest that life there is as bleak as a lot of kitchen-sink type drama does (which I think is often quite patronising). It just highlights how difficult it is to thrive intellectually in that kind of environment. And Jaycen is a character I suspect a lot of people from any background could identify with anyway, ‘cos let’s face it, if you read novels you’re probably a bit of a social oddity nowadays anyway. :-)

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Reading Progress

04/09/2012 page 16
4.0% "Only 16 pages in but has already managed to shoehorn in several dozen references to 80s brands, culture and people. Despite (or perhaps because of) the blatant emotional-manipulation-by-nostalgia I am already drawn into it though."
05/04/2012 page 16
4.0% "53"
07/07/2012 page 136
37.0% "Reading this aloud so it is taking some time to get through. Don't think I am getting the Brummie accent right. :-)"
10/13/2012 page 256
69.0% "Talking ages because a) I'm reading it aloud, and b) to be honest it's not that interesting."
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