Author: David Mitchell.
This is the 7th David Mitchell novel I’ve read, and my last until he writes a new one. This story is one of his more grounded works as it doesn’t feature fantasy/ sci-fi elements and it is largely based in one location during a limited time period. It is set in the early 1980’s in Black Swan Green, a small village in Worcestershire.
The story follows Jason Taylor, a young teenager who has a stammer which he tries to hide in school because of persecution by the other school children. He also has to deal with the gradual breakdown of his parents’ marriage and eventual divorce.
It was a well written coming-of-age story. The book depicted Jason’s fear of being persecuted by his schoolmates because of his stammer and of his love for writing poetry. The school landscape was extremely realistic as Mitchell described the fear of not fitting in. A lot of the narrative surrounded teenage boy culture as there was this constant struggle of the characters to try and impress their peers and to not seem weak. Jason and his friend, Moran, were on the brink of popularity and started hanging with the “cool kids” but it was Jason who eventually sees through their superficiality and hence matured as a person.
The book felt very personal, probably the most personal of all his books. It is noted as a “semi-autobiography” as Mitchell himself has a stammer. Because of this, the events in the book and Jason’s thoughts felt quite authentic and personal. It was different from anything Mitchell had written before and I really appreciated the honesty of the book.
There is a backdrop of The Falklands War, which I had no prior knowledge of before reading this. It was a war between Great Britain and Argentina over The Falklands Islands in the South Atlantic. Even though this is only a subplot it was really interesting as it’s a bit of specific history that is rarely referred to outside of the nations concerned.
Jason’s development over the 13 months of the novel were well chronicled as he learned to accept himself, deal with his stammer and have pride in his poetry. A personal coming-of-age drama that shows the struggle of growing up and of accepting yourself. Much recommended.