Black Swan Green

Am I the only one in the world who doesn’t think this book is amazing?

From all the reviews I’ve read, it looks that way.

David Mitchell‘s Black Swan Green is a “coming-of-age” book about himself (more or less), disguised in the form of stammering, 13-year-old, would-be poet, Jason Taylor.

The events in Black Swan Green chronicle a year in the life of Jason Taylor.   But not just any year – his 13th year, aptly described by one of the characters as:

Ack­kk, a won­der­ful, mis­er­able age. Not a boy, not a teenag­er. Im­pa­tience but timid­ity too. Emo­tion­al in­con­ti­nence.

The 13 chapters of the book, 1 for each month of the year, from January 1982 to January 1983, are short, seemingly random vignettes about the events in Jason’s life.

During this fateful year of his life, Jason swings from opposite ends of the school’s popularity scale, meets mysterious people who made lasting impressions, learns different kinds of life-changing secrets, and deals with the usual problems brought about by puberty, such as girls, sex, bullies.

More sensitive than your average 13-year-old, Jason also struggles to fit in, and be liked, while trying to stay unique and true to himself.  Not an easy thing to do you when you’re living in the small, conservative town of Black Swan Green.

To make myself clear, and to avoid the wrath of David Mitchell fans all over the internet, let me just say that I did not dislike Black Swan Green.  The book was intriguing enough at times to make me question the narrator’s reality and truthfulness when talking about the different events of his life. And compared to most 13-year-old protagonists, Jason, to me, was less pretentious and more real.  He doesn’t always get things right, and in his narration, at least, he isn’t afraid to say so.

Black Swan Green reminded me a little of Stephen Chbosky‘s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Paul Murray‘s Skippy Dies.  It lies somewhere in the middle of the two books – not as cloying and annoying as Wallflower, yet not as hilarious, dramatic, or entertaining as Skippy Dies.

I realize comparing novels is hardly fair, but it’s hard not to compare coming-of-age novels with each other – especially when there is such a proliferation of them in recent years.

And speaking of comparisons, it’s probably unfortunate that I read Black Swan Green in the wake of David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which is the best book I’ve read in 2012 so far.

The two books have nothing in common, really, except for a more traditional style of narration (as opposed to Cloud Atlas, Ghostwritten, and Number9Dream, from what I’ve heard, as I have not read any of the three), and a certain moon-grey cat.

The emotional effect Black Swan Green had on me was the complete opposite of Jacob de Zoet, and that, I think, made all the difference.  Compared to the emotional roller-coaster ride of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, was safe, ordinary, and a bit disappointing.

Where I felt sad, depressed, and hopeless after Jacob de Zoet, I felt nothing, after reading Black Swan Green.  I did not find Jason Taylor’s life, and story, terribly tragic or extraordinary, and the sense of hopeless finality so prevalent in Jacob de Zoet, was absent from Black Swan Green, and in Jason’s life, making it hard for me to empathize with his character.

‘It’ll be all right,’ Ju­lia’s gen­tle­ness makes it worse, ‘in the end, Jace.’

‘It doesn’t feel very all right.’

‘That’s be­cause it’s not the end.’


Black Swan Green (2006) – David Mitchell


Personal rating:  2.5/5

11 thoughts on “Black Swan Green

  1. The average rating at Goodreads is 3.95, so a rating of 2.5 is, yes, unpopular.

    And I warned you NOT to read this after a different Mitchell novel. Or perhaps you haven’t been reading me (which I don’t take against you or anyone; I’m just saying).

    • Hahaha, I do read you, actually. But I don’t always remember what I’m supposed to 🙂 Well, like I said, I don’t hate it or anything….I just don’t love it either. It’s just “ok” for me.

      • Whoops! Just saw this now, hehe. Well, I know the rating is pretty weird, but I was trying to be objective. And I love this mostly because it’s less of a novel than a memoir. If you haven’t noticed, I have a crush on Mitchell, haha, so reading this is like reading the diary of your … crush. 😀

      • Hahaha…yeah, I can tell…I kinda have a crush on him too… Yes, I liked that it was sort of a memoir -it’s interesting to know more about the childhood of an admired author.

        Btw..I will be reading Cloud Atlas next…maybe in 2 weeks from now 🙂

      • Yeah, I heard about the movie. Actually I’m going to read If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller first, because they always compare Cloud Atlas to that (and it has been on my tbr pile for almost 2 years now).

      • I’ve read 2 of Calvino’s books. His stories are interesting in a fairy tale-ish sort of way. From the two books I’ve read, I can say that he’s very into magical realism. I’ve actually read maybe 3 chapters of If on Winter’s Night already – a year ago, but stopped reading it for some reason. But it was very intriguing.

    • Yes, I couldn’t resist! My pace is a bit slow, so I’m still only on the second chapter. It’s ok so far…seems like I’m just reading more chapters from Wolf Hall, instead of a different novel. The events in the 2nd book pick up more or less where Wolf Hall ended.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s