Black Swan Green, David Mitchell
If you are a sucker for a good coming of age story like I am, this one's for you!
Black Swan Green is a novel but it's structured more like a short story collection. Each chapter is a month of thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor's life in the English village of Black Swan Green. We follow Jason as he navigates the bullies at school, the disintegration of his parents' marriage, and his own budding identity. While many of the chapters could easily stand alone, there is definitely continuity and a plot.
The novel is well written; Mitchell really captures the tween mentality. It's funny and poignant in the right places. There are also some shades of John Irving: Jason's speech impediment, the older woman who teaches Jason about himself (in a non-sexual way, so not entirely Irving-like). Being a big Irving fan, that was a good thing.
There were two chapters that really resonated with me. My favourite was "Solarium," in which Jason meets Eva Crommelynk. She is the only person in Black Swan Green who knows that Jason writes poetry, which is published in the parish newsletter under a nom de plume. Their meetings give Jason a new perspective on art and his own identity. Crommelynk's character was interesting and entertaining. Apparently, she also appears in Cloud Atlas, one of Mitchell's much more famous novels that I have not gotten around to yet.
The other chapter that stood out was "Maggot." This one really got to me, I think largely due to the timing. I was dealing with some behaviour issues in one of my classes and was quite frustrated by the things I was observing at school. There are several parts of the book that describe obnoxious teenage behaviour, but this chapter in particular features some quite cruel bullying. For starters, the title of the chapter refers to the name Jason's classmates like to call him. Though I have never experienced what happens in the book (and hope not to), it just hit a little too close to home emotionally at the time.
This year has been shaping up to be a pretty lacklustre one so far in terms of books. Black Swan Green is one of the few that I'd recommend and that I think I'll still remember having enjoyed at the end of the year.