Thursday, January 11, 2007

Black Swan Green

by David Mitchell

Mitchell is a freakin' genius. His last book before this one was Cloud Atlas, which is firmly in my Top 10 Best Books Ever. Critics gushed over it too, and it was a finalist for the prestigious Booker Prize.

This, his latest, did not fare so well with the reviewers. Not one of the reviews I read, however, actually reviewed the book on its own merits. The critics seemed blinded by disappointment that Black Swan Green isn't as bold and complex and breathtaking as Cloud Atlas — which really surprised me. Normally it's the public who feel betrayed when an artist doesn't copy himself. Usually the critics have enough experience to realize that artists must be allowed to grow and experiment and change. I guess they were annoyed he hadn't already done his compulsory semi-autobiographical, first-person-narrative coming of age novel. (Every novelist is allowed one, but most get it out of the way earlier in their careers.)

In any case, Black Swan Green is a charming and funny tale of boyhood adventures and travails, navigating social hierarchies and familial decay. It's easy and comfortable to slip into the protagonist's world, which is, in a way, simpler than Mitchell's other work, but possesses a subtlety and intricacy of its own — a different, more intimate type of complexity. I really enjoyed reading it, and I laughed out loud several times. It's sort of a "beach book" for those who normally disdain such things, and accessible enough to be enjoyed by teens.

[Disclaimer: I am an Anglophile, which no doubt contributed to my enjoyment of this book. In fact, it inspired one of my new year's resolutions: to incorporate more Britishisms into my speech. Cheers, then!]

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