Jessica's Reviews > Black Swan Green

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
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Sep 26, 07

bookshelves: leetle-boys
Recommended for: little british boys
Read in May, 2007

I remember describing this book to a coworker:

Me: "It's about this little stuttering English kid who lives out in some little village during the Thatcher era, and sort of like, his coming of age kind of experiences?"

Coworker: "Oh God, that sounds awful."

Me: "No! I mean, I know it sounds awful the way I just explained it, but the book's actually really, really great!"

Two days later....

Me: (privately, to self) "Oh, God, this is awful."

I don't know what happened! This book started out really amazing me, seeming superficially like one of those written-a-trillion-times quaint period piece preadolescent-boyhood novels, but somehow defied the genre and was just so wonderfully written and insided this kid's head and about a thousand times better than it had any right to be..... But then somehow, midway through, it tipped and twisted and turned into the most cliched, precious, tiresome crap I've read in awhile. Is that too harsh? Yeah. But it did suddenly get completely stupid, I'm pretty sure. It went from being this wonderfully phrased little shimmering gem with terrific dialogue, into... well, okay, spoiler alert: in the second half of this novel, the little boy meets an eccentric old lady who teaches him to believe in himself, copes with his parents' divorce, learns to overcome prejudice by befriending gypsies, stands up to bullies, gets his first kiss, and learns a few lessons about love and loss. Happily, our little hero Jason neatly resolves at least one of Erik Erikson's developmental stages and gains mastery over his environment, moving several strides closer to manhood in the great game of Life! If this sounds good to you, be my guest and pick up a copy of _Black Swan Green_. If you can't find this book, that's okay, because there are countless others which are very similar, many of them written for a young audience.

Okay, I'm a big jerk, and it really wasn't so terrible... But if you're interested in the coming-of-age experiences of little British boys in crappy towns during the Falklands war, I suggest you go see the movie _This is England_, which has not just a much fresher take, but also a better soundtrack.
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Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by matthew (new)

matthew that's hilarious.


message 2: by Rachel (new)

Rachel This is pretty off-topic, since it's not Thatcher-era and it's not really a coming-of-age-type thing, but adolescent English boys reminded me: I've been meaning to ask you if you've ever read that Alan Sillitoe story _The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner_?


message 3: by matthew (new)

matthew which one of us are you asking?


Jessica No. Should I? I know the Iron Maiden song, though, and I guess I ought to be familiar with the feeling.


message 5: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Well, I don't know if you (Jessica) are into that Angry Young Men stuff, but it's one of those stories that has really stuck with me over the years. It's good! And, yeah, it's about running, which is something that you do. I am not familiar with the song.


Jessica There is no good reason why you should make any effort to be.


message 7: by Paul (new)

Paul By the bye, in This Is England, a pretty good movie by a film maker from my home hown, yay and all that, there's a character who is so far off the scale of likeliness that if the sun was the likeliest thing ever this character would be the planet Pluto orbiting round some other sun in a galaxy which hasn't been invented yet, that's how unlikely. I refer to the goth-stylee 15 year old ish young woman who asks - asks! - to be the 11 year old's girlfriend. She towers over him, she looks like she could carry him home in her handbag or roll him in a joint and smoke him. This part of the plot would never have happened, not even slightly. Which was a shame, everything else was bang on the grimy post industrial BNP button.


Jessica Some careful research here on Bookface has made clear the surprising fact that I am the only person on the planet who did not totally love this book.

That's so embarrassing. Should I give it another star? What's wrong with me? Are some Booksters going to beat me up? Oh, man. Why can't I just fit in?

I still want to read Cloud Atlas. I do think this guy's a good writer, I'm just obviously too bad a person to appreciate this particularly heartwarming theme.

Don't hurt me!


message 9: by Paul (new)

Paul I hated Ghostwritten & threw it at the wall. It was just a lot of showing off - I can cover more cultural terrain than you can, yah boo.


message 10: by Alan (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alan Jessica, I'm reading it now and it's boring the pants off me. I have to say it is beautifully written, it has marvellous scenes, but it's too fond of itself, its poetry (may be acceptable as it's a 13 year old poet)and significance and the characters are pretty stock too. I've only read No 9 Dream of his before and didn't much like that either, but everyone tells me he's great so he must be. I'm not getting it though. I was dead pleased to find someone else of the same opinion. And yes This is England is much better, even given the unbelievable goth 15 year old that Paul refers to...


message 11: by Joe (new) - rated it 2 stars

Joe Jessica wrote: "Some careful research here on Bookface has made clear the surprising fact that I am the only person on the planet who did not totally love this book.

That's so embarrassing. Should I give it anoth..."



Don't beat yourself up girl!

I just finished it and I'm with you. I thought it was going to be something great. It turned out to be a mediocre at best, boring at worst.

I gave it two stars too.



Blurppi When I saw your review I initially thought "Oh no, what could someone possibly dislike about this book? Unless it was the annoying thematic change halfway through when he met the old lady..." You're absolutely right, it became overwrought at that point. I think I was so in love with the first half that I managed to overlook it.


Rebecca Stimpson i really, really liked this book, BUT i also know exactly what you mean. i envy anyone who can write as skilfully about fiction as you do so consistently.


Juanita Rice My sentiments exactly!! (Exc I don't know the movie you mention.) For me, it tipped into cliched adolescent nostalgia "oh-I-suffered" much earlier: page 15 or so. I did finish, out of respect for Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and . I'm going to check reviews before I read his others.


message 15: by Dawn (new)

Dawn Briscoe I got enough entertainment from this book just by laughing at your review! Love it!!


Barbara Ah - I think you were bullied into changing your thinking! Try it again - you missed a real jewel. I am a middle-aged adult, so it's not just for leetle British boys.


message 17: by Matt (new)

Matt Cook I think the book does have a contextual similarity to the kind of book wheeled out in adolescent English classes at school, about coming of age etc. But this is constantly subverted with Mitchell's brilliant observations about the motivations of others, and with a main character smart well beyond his years. I read a comment that described Mitchell's writing as "prententious". Well, that's exasperatingly ignorant. All writers are prententious. That's what writing is. But the nearer to "a" truth about existence they get, the better. Take the short note from the teacher to Jason on the nature of bullies. Whether that is his own work, or autobiographical detail. That tiny guide will likely never be bettered anywhere.


message 18: by Mommalibrarian (new)

Mommalibrarian Are the book-likers just those who had or thought they had miserable coming-of-age periods and vice versa or something else?


Barbara Or maybe those who love the book are the more mature readers (talking about age and experience here, not to judge character) who can accept some flaws and still love a good story, engaging characters, and appreciate the language. I understand that adolescence is a time when emotions are raw and there is a lack of control over one's destiny. Also, when I finish a book missing a character and a place, I feel the book was well worth my time. We all relate to a book from our own personal perspective.


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