Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Review: Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

David Mitchell is a genius. Last year, I read Cloud Atlas, and I was amazed. Amazed and stunned that anyone has such literary breadth. He's just incredible. If you're paying attention, you've already heard all the critics say it, but I'll say it again.

Black Swan Green is a totally different book from the Cloud Atlas. This story is simply a year in the life of a British 13-year old boy living in the village of Black Swan Green. Each chapter, some critics say, could be a short story in and of itself, and I agree. They also flow nicely together as a novel.

One thing I have a hard time with is dialect written into a work of fiction. I know sometimes it's simply crucial to have wording written as it would be said. I think why it bugs me is that I'm a very fast reader, and this kind of writing slows me down and is a little choppy until I get used to it. There was a little of that here ("Actually, they just snogged. Should've sticked around, yer should've. Might've seen a bit o'crump.") But, to be fair, if you are going to be in the head of a 13 year old boy, you need to be willing to "think" like he's thinking. But it's the only thing that took some getting used to.

The book is set in 1982 and if 80's memories are comforting to you, you'll get a kick out of all the 80's references. The writing is beautiful - as beautiful as thoughts can be running through a 13 year old's head - and obviously well crafted. Here's a sample:

A Jules Verne hi-fi, all silvery knobs and dials, occupied one corner of the solarium. Madame Crommelynck sat on her cane throne, eyes shut, listening. As if the music was a warm bath. (This time I knew she wouldn't be speaking for a while, so I just sat down on the armless sofa.) A classical L.P. was playing. Nothing like the rumpty-tump-tump stuff Mr. Kempsey plays in Music. Jealous and sweet, this music was, sobbing and gorgeous, muddy and crystal. But if the right words existed the music wouldn't need to.

Definitely read this book. And while you're at it, read Cloud Atlas, too.


Sheri said...

I gave up on this book after a few chapters and you basically said why in your review when you mentined it read like a bunch of short stories. I don't really read short stories, I've never been a big fan, so that could be why I folded on this book. Your review was so good though, it makes me wonder if I should have tried harder.

Lisa said...

Well, I wouldn't say this book is for everyone. His writing is definitely in a category of its own. Cloud Atlas is even MORE like a connected sequence of short stories, so don't read that one, either!

I say life is too short to read books you don't LOVE! And that's the fun of the book community - we all love different things!