21 July 2008

Black Swan Green

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

It's much harder to write intelligent stuff about a book when you really loved it, so this will probably be short. Tearing into a book is so much easier (and rest assured, the new Elizabeth George and I are not getting along so I will be getting sarcastic on that ass.)

Anyway, Black Swan Green. Fantastic. Mitchell's got a marvelously assured and flexible voice, with a grasp of idiom that's to be envied (and yet he doesn't overuse it or use it in a gimmicky fashion.) It's narrated from the perspective of a 13 year old boy and Mitchell does this trick that Diana Wynne Jones always manages, which is to get the complicated inner feelings of a child across without resorting to exposition or breaking voice and giving the child insights and maturity beyond its years.

The book isn't particularly plotty in terms of a huge plot arc or schoolbus tragedy or something like that, though I kept waiting for for something enormous to happen and bum me out. Instead there is plenty of incident to keep the narrative flowing along nicely and no single event to hang the denouement on. Don't get me wrong, the book has the usual dramatic arc that novels generally possess, just in a more muted fashion. I enjoyed that, actually - for one thing, I'm not fond of books that unexpectedly turn into tragedies, and for another, I think it showcases Mitchell's skill better at constructing an interesting story from many small events.

From a personal perspective, I also enjoyed being steeped in Britishisms. That was one of my favorite things about living in Scotland - all the little turns of phrase which seemed quaint and marvelous to me. Black Swan Green is set in England, of course, so a different set of phrases, but I love them all. My ex-husband used to tell me I has "a face like a pan of milk" when I frowned, which is a phrase he got from his granny but which I've never been able to track down, etymology-wise. I'm sure there are similarly charming regional phrases in America (somewhere) but I grew up speaking a very proper and standard sort of English so I'm not familiar with most of them. I love accents, too, and that's one thing I do get exposed to, living in Boston, where many pahk the cahs in Hahvahd Yahd.

I might try forcing this book on Dave. My track record with recommendations for him has been spotty but I'm wondering if this might not be up his alley. Now I really want a copy of Cloud Atlas, which I could have sworn I had, but it's not on the bookshelves so maybe I had it lying around for a while, unread, and got rid of it in one of the periodic purges I have to resort to with limited shelf space and a mania for tidily shelved books (see fig. 1, below.) Dangit.

Also I need to get on GoodReads; I mean, I'm on there, but I haven't entered any book reviews in there yet. People at work are using it, though, and I am always up for more recommendations, so.

Fig. 1. I'd love to say that the desk isn't always this messy, with Dave's school crap piled all over it, but actually it really is that messy most of the time. This is my little office, where I do all of my blogging from. Having a place to write has always been important to me. Virginia Woolf knew what she was talking about with that room of one's own thing.


Lisa said...

If you can't find Cloud Atlas, Cara, I think I have a galley of it that I'd gladly send you. Not particularly beautiful, but better than nothing.

Cara deBeer said...

ooh, I'd take it in a red hot minute. It's a big 'un, right? (I've resorted to using length to help me decide on books to acquire, since I'm trying not to buy them at all right now.)

Lisa said...

It's a big un. I'll put it in the mail sometime this week.

Erica N said...

I loved Black Swan Green! So evocative of being 13 (and, I assume, being male and British). You'll like Cloud Atlas too.

I am sooo behind on my blog-reading, sorry!

Cara deBeer said...

hey, no need to apologize ... especially if you don't mind that I'm behind on my blog-writing. Heh.