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.
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