Random House Trade Paperbacks
Keyword(s): Literary fiction
Dates read: August 28 - September 20, 2011, Rating:
Thank you, David Mitchell, for restoring my faith in literary fiction. After a terrible experience with Nicholson Baker's House of Holes and a middling reaction to Richard Powers' Generosity, I was a bit afraid that my tastes had shifted away from beautiful prose and toward plot-driven speculative fiction. Though I do greatly enjoy the latter, thankfully I now know that I still have a taste for the former.
Black Swan Green is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel set in England in the early 80s. The narrator, Jason Taylor, is the same age as Mitchell, and about two years older than me, and although I grew up in New England rather than the U.K., I recognized enough of Mitchell's music and pop culture references to see and value how real and appropriate they are. I identified strongly with Jason, especially with the distortions the adolescent mind places on the significance of life's minor but formative events.
Mitchell is a versatile writer. You'd have a hard time finding three books in three different genres as uniformly excellent as Mitchell's Black Swan Green (bildungsroman), Cloud Atlas (literary speculative fiction), and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (historical fiction). In all cases, the writing craft is meticulous, but in the case of Black Swan Green there are sentences in each chapter that I wish I had conceived and written, metaphors that jump of the page — to the point of being aphorisms.
I'm eager to read Mitchell's earlier novels, though I am tempted to hold off a bit and save them for just the right time and place.