Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

I think David Mitchell is a very clever boy. (I don’t mean to be patronising, it’s just that ‘clever boy’ trips off the tongue better than ‘clever man’). I read Cloud Atlas with a mixture of admiration and confusion, which I think was pretty common but my overall memory of the book was that it was a richly woven tapestry of stories and people. So when a friend recommended several books, one of them being Black Swan Green, I was instantly keen.

I can only assume that once upon a time, Mitchell was a 13 year old boy living in a small village somewhere in England, being bullied and struggling with life, because his words inhabit Jason (our hero) so absolutely. When reading the book, you are a 13 year old boy. Your sister is an over achieving pain in the arse. Your parents are just totally weird and annoying. School is scary and confusing and the Falkland’s war is just a mystery, until it touches you personally and then suddenly it becomes all too real.

The era is very familiar and Mitchell is very clever in summoning up the atmosphere that prevailed at the time, one of mistrust, strange patriotism and huge division (pro Thatcher or Anti Thatcher, both equally as passionate as each other). I was only born a few years before the war started (ahem), so I remember it happening, but in a dreamlike way. Mitchell skilfully breaks it down to a child’s perspective, with the confusion surrounding it but also with clarity and the dawning realisation of what was happening and what could happen.

Jason is a hugely likable character but he’s a thirteen year old boy. He is, on several occasions, a bit of dick but I say that fondly.  Inevitably there are some serious cringe moments but also moments where you’re immensely proud of him. Interestingly, when those proud moments happen, I found myself congratulating the parents on doing a good job on him, which also allowed me to feel real empathy for them. Being a struggling parent with teenagers and their own issues just isn’t easy (Oh dear god, is this what I have to look forward to?!).

Jason’s journey through early teenage hood is painful, familiar and funny. He is a pretty normal kid, with some normal, as well as some pretty abnormal things happening to him, but because it’s written by Mitchell this tale is elevated to become a story of triumph against adversity, a discovery of self, a heightened awareness of the world around him and the painful knowledge that nothing will be as simple as it used to be.

It resonated with me, in every way.

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