Friday, 1 July 2011

Black Swan Green

Sig other was given 'Cloud Atlas' by David Mitchell for Christmas one year, and I read it before he did and fell for it totally.  I have been working my way through his others, which I will come to writing about in due course.  This one is actually a bit different from the others I have read so far, in that it is a single story, about a boy growing up, a little, in a village in the 1982  English Midlands.  This is a background quite a long way from my own - in 1982 I was pushing my thirties and had two children, and I have almost always lived in urban places and not villages - but there is plenty here to recognise.  I liked especially the 13-year-old narrator and his take on Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands (he thinks Thatcher is wonderful), and the buttoned-upness of the adult characters reminded me that 1982 was pre reality TV, and things were different then.

The boy has a stammer he manages, mostly, to conceal from his peers (as I did mine) but it seems as though Mitchell may not know what stammering is.  The boy calls it Hangman, playing on the removal of the possibility of words in the game, but it is not like that.  It is more like an iron bar, or perhaps a horizontal iron door, preventing the words from getting through.  Or perhaps each stammerer experiences it differently.  I can't know.  But I was sometimes not sure about the descriptive language: "birdsong strafed and morsed from the oak on the village green" (p. 139).  Although maybe (p. 164) an English church's bells do go "trip, trip. drangg and baloom".  A village.  "Black Swan Green ain't got space for secrets" (p. 178).

And then suddenly we find ourselves back with the Belgian composer from 'Cloud Atlas' - but why not? (p. 201)  And if you haven't read the other book he is still cool.  Or at least the storyline is.

He does write very nicely  "Listening's reading if you close your eyes" (p. 203) and "a sleek black Porsche lay waiting for its master" (p. 236).

Well, in the end it is a coming-of-age story.  A boy grows up, a little.  Finds out about girls, a little.  Someone dies.  A baby is going to be born.  A family fractures.  A childhood home is left behind.  And I guess the period details are right.  Part of me wanted to say, though, at the end, that I wasn't quite sure what was the point of it all.  It was published in 2006, and reminded me a lot of the Jonathan Coe books, especially 'The Rotters' Club', published several years earlier, not I suppose surprising.  When we went to a signing for the French translation of Coe's book about B.S.. Johnson, Coe advised sig other to read Mitchell, in fact this very book, to experience a sense of place and time.


Anonymous said...

Black Swan Green is fab - read it when it came out. But that is a one off for me as far as that author is concerned. Hate Cloud whatever - and loathe the latest.

Rotters Club is okayish - actually, I think it is a less than good re-work of Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush - a late 1960s novel -- ( by Hunter Davies) later a film with Judy Geeson ( remember her?).

Coe's latest - written about 2 years ago is about a faded lesbian aged sort. Not very good. However, his biog of the sad and quirky novelist, BS Johnson called 'Like a Fiery Elephant', ( I think) won the Samuel Johnson prize and is so fab it outdoes everything. BSJ died by committing suicide - opened his veins in a bath of warm water. Read it and then read soem BS Johnson.

Jane Griffiths said...

agree re the BS Johnson work anyway, I downloaded a TV short film by Johnson which is brilliant

Anonymous said...

Yes it is. I have seen it too.

Johnson - a man of immense promise - never found that his work 'took off' as such. This is why he became increasingly dissatisfied - leading to the eventual suicide.

Incidentally, the sequel to Rotters Club is disappointing - and I never quite saw the point of What a Carve Up - although it was a recent Radio 4 serialisation hit. But this is no guarantee of anything.
Have just started the Alan Hollinghurst novel - The Stranger's Child. Not got far enough into it to judge , as yet. Of his others, the best by far is his first one - The Swimming Pool Library. He got the Booker for The Line of Beauty and it was serialised on the BBC - but I think that it was the subject matter - 1980s Thatcher-style political circles - that entranced people. Not me, especially.... We have had enough Thatcher era stuff -- and are now drowning in a surfeit of Tony/Peter/Gordon etc.