four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-BlackSwanGreenIn Black Swan Green, a village in western England, 13-year-old Jason Taylor comes of age in 1982. Over the course of a year, he navigates a sea of bullies, words with the letter n (because of his stammer), and Margaret Thatcher’s reign. Narrated in episodic chapters, Jason tells of smashing and hiding a family heirloom; searching for an ancient Roman tunnel; witnessing the slow disintegration of his parents’ marriage; and wandering into a gypsy encampment, where he befriends the elderly Eva van Outryve de Crommelynck (last seen in Cloud Atlas, 2004)—who becomes his writing tutor. He also has his first kiss and learns crucial survival skills among experiences of teenage pain, guilt, and joy.
Random House. 294 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 1400063795

San Diego Union-Tribune 5 of 5 Stars
"[Mitchell] has zeroed in on a year in the life of one not-quite-so-ordinary boy, a year in which, while a few mildly extraordinary events do occur, Mitchell mesmerizes with flat-out brilliant vignettes of the quotidian. . . . Black Swan Green has already been compared to The Catcher in the Rye, but read it anyway: He’s a few years younger, but I prefer Jason Taylor’s company to Holden Caulfield’s." Arthur Salm

Entertainment Weekly 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Each kaleidoscopic chapter begins with glimpses of semicomic domestic normalcy . . . then reels off in a totally unexpected direction, sometimes landing Jason at a fantastical destination . . . and sometimes punishing him with crushing social humiliation at the hands of his schoolmates. . . . This book is so entertainingly strange, so packed with activity, adventures, and diverting banter, that you only realize as the extraordinary novel concludes that the timid boy has grown before your eyes into a capable young man." Jennifer Reese

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"There are important thematic threads pulsing through the work, such as an inherited watch that is broken and concealed, an old lady who lives in the woods who both heals and haunts, and the mystery of a parent’s possible infidelity. . . . Possibly the best way to describe the success of Black Swan Green is to say that it skillfully combines the mythic with the realistic." David Hellman

Philadelphia Inquirer 4.5 of 5 Stars
"This portrait of the artist as a very young man was obviously painted by an older, practiced hand—it’s full of universal truths, not just individual facts. . . . Thus far, this is my favorite novel of 2006, and I won’t be surprised if it turns out to be the best book I read all year." Susan Balée

Rocky Mountain News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Black Swan Green proves that Mitchell’s talent lies not only in sweeping story lines and complicated plot structures. He also succeeds in infusing a simple coming-of-age story with his own brand of creative flair, his trademark gorgeous language and his pitch-perfect dialogue. Black Swan Green is powerful and beautifully rendered." Ashley Simpson Shires

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Mitchell is the rare novelist who makes me see that path clearly: it starts among suburban houses, passes through a meadow where boys are fighting, and somewhere up ahead leads into a shrinking wood, populated by ghosts on skates, lunatic beekeepers, and Gypsies crouched around a dying fire." Nell Freudenberger

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"To watch Jason veer between wildest flight of fancy and grimmest teen-Realpolitik is an ongoing shock and delight. . . . In short, for all the torment and self-chastisement he puts himself through, this is one lovable kid—and one dream-read of a book." Michael Upchurch

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"In one of the most remarkable chapters, ‘Bridle Path,’ young Jason just wanders through the village, searching for a secret tunnel. Along the way he picks up the sounds and sights, the alliances and conflicts all around him. It’s an apparently aimless riff that gradually overwhelms you with its reverence for the ordinary." Ron Charles

Critical Summary

Critics hailed Mitchell’s previous work, including Ghostwritten (1999), Number9Dream (2001), and Cloud Atlas ( 4 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2004), as inventive postmodern novels, brilliant stories-within-stories. Admittedly, the semiautobiographical Black Swan Green contains fewer literary tricks, a more straightforward narrative, and less flash—but the results are even more dazzling. More accessible and possessing greater emotional heft, Mitchell’s newest novel offers a portrait of a boy and an era in 13 chapters that, by turns, produce exhilaration, nostalgia, and heartbreak. Vivid sensory images, pitch-perfect dialogue, and flawless characterizations make Black Swan Green Mitchell’s best work to date, "a testament of his seemingly bottomless talent" (Rocky Mountain News).